Welp, its hard to believe but the New York Islanders have reached midpoint of the 2017-18 season. With a record of 20-17-4 (44 points), the Isles find themselves on the outside looking in on a playoff spot right now after a fantastic start to the season that had them fighting for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division. Many of things have gotten New York to the point they currently stand, both from a positive and negative standpoint.
Our Rob Taub reveals what has stuck out this season so far:
1- Doug Weight is certainly no Jack Capuano 2.0 as some have alleged during these first four months of the season. Weight has not sugarcoated when his team needs a kick in the ass, and is quick to praise when he believes a player deserves it.
2- We really don’t know how good or bad Weight’s assistants really are yet. Kelly Buchberger, Luke Richardson and Greg Cronin haven’t really drawn a ton of criticism that Weight gets because, the head coach usually gets the most. If things continue to spiral and the defense and penalty kill can’t pick it up, Richardson and Cronin will begin to draw massive heat from the fan base.
3-Weight does need to fix the defensive style his team plays. Flying the zone is good and all to generate offense, but when doing that means completely abandoning the defensive aspect of the game, the team will continue to lose and allow five or six goals a game.
4- What comes with the defense style changing, means Weight’s crew needs to stop turning the puck over at the blue line and neutral zone. I can’t count how many times this year that there’s been more than three turnovers in those spots by an Islander forward or defensemen.
5- Doug Weight before the past two or so weeks did a disservice to both Jaro Halak and Thomas Greiss by not giving them defined roles as the season started. By flip-flopping between the two for a few months, the Islanders basically did not have a number-one starting goalie that can be leaned on.
6- The goaltending does need to improve. Yes the teams difficulties can be thrown the defense’ way, but the amount of soft goals given up by Halak and Greiss has been overwhelming. Some of those goals were game-changers.
7- Something has been off about Thomas Greiss this season. As even-keeled as he is, you can see the frustration not only in his demeanor, but his performance as well.
8- Jaro Halak — considering it’s a contract year — has played well. Yes, his GAA won’t say that, but Halak has given the Islanders a chance to win every night, except on one or two occasions. And there doesn’t seem to be any bad blood from what he went through with the organization from a year ago.
9- The Dennis Seidenberg experiment should have ended earlier this season. Granted Seidenberg was coming off an unprecedented solid campaign a year ago, we’ve seen throughout this year, that his age has definitely caught up with him, and the Isles were better off just showcasing their younger d-men, despite their struggles.
10- It’s the end of the line for Thomas Hickey. Hickey — who is a fan favorite — has done good things over his time with the club. But through 41 games, it’s evident that he is overmatched. And with the team stockpiled with blueliners in the pipeline and now some of them making getting the call to the pros, his time in the blue and orange is just about finished.
11- The injury to Calvin de Haan really put a damper on the Isles defense trying to stop the bleeding that has gone on since the season started. de Haan struggled to start the season after a career-year in 2016-17, but began to elevate his game up until the set back. For someone who is a minute-muncher the way he is, the injury came at the worst moment it could have.
12- Adam Pelech for the rest of the year would be best suited in the number five role on the backend. It’s clear the talent and skill Pelech has in his arsenal, but he doesn’t seem to be a 20-plus minute player, which is fine. His type of game is the kind that a bottom-pairing defensemen that can be depended on to be more responsible defensively.
13- Ryan Pulock and Scott Mayfield have made good strides given their time in the lineup. As rookies, everyone and their mother knew their was going to be ups and downs for both, but they have both shown they can be solid contributors with the puck. Defensively, both of them continue to be a work in progress that can hopefully propel them to a higher status before the season comes to a close.
14- An observation of all three — Adam Pelech, Scott Mayfield and Ryan Pulock — is we won’t know just how good these three will be until they all play on a regular basis. Hopefully, that comes to fruition in the next couple of months.
15- The first pairing of Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk has been the only bright spot on the blue line. Leddy, who is having quite arguably the best season of his career, has become the true anchor on the backend. His partner Boychuk — despite his rugged style of play — has enjoyed somewhat of a bounce back campaign so far, being a bigger contributor offensively.
16- Nick Leddy has established himself as a Norris trophy caliber defensemen. He is producing at a higher-rate than other seasons. Leddy’s skating and defense have made him a weapon in all phases of the club’s game.
17- Overall, the defense just needs to become a strength and simplify their game.
18- Special teams continues to be a mixed bag. For the longest time, the penalty kill was the Isles bread and butter, while the power play walked on eggshells. This year, it’s been the complete opposite. A more-improved man advantage and a listless penalty kill. It’s been said for a while now, there needs to be a balance.
19- Keeping on the penalty kill, the reason why they rank dead last is because they continue to fail to clear the puck and allow too much open space.
20- The Isles technically haven’t had a real fourth line to the degree they had in years prior. Obviously they still have Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck anchoring that line, but the other slot has been a revolving door, which isn’t a great thing for a team who needs to be able to roll four lines each night.
21- The third line has been non-existent for the majority of the season. Whomever Doug Weight seems to throw on that line, it hasn’t seemed to work as there’s been little to next to nothing in terms of contributions.
22- It’s time for a change of scenery for Brock Nelson. Nothing else needs to be said.
23- Jason Chimera has had a rough go of it through 41 games. The speed and the tenacity is still there in the 38-year old, but the puck just doesn’t seem to want to find the back of the net for him.
24- Andrew Ladd has been a revelation this season. His game has really stood out from the outset. His production is still not as high as some would want it to be, but he’s playing a more grittier, skilled style that has been a consummate factor to why the second line has been so successful.
25- Jordan Eberle and Mathew Barzal are as deadly as any second-line pairing in the NHL. The chemistry these two have formed is fantastic. And their style of plays mesh so well and complete each other’s game.
26- The Isles have a legit second line for the first time since the early 2000s. No more are the days of rotating nearly every forward to try and spark the club. Andrew Ladd, Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle have buried that scenario.
27- Mathew Barzal is going to be the next great Islander superstar. Yes he’s hit a bit of wall as of late, but you can’t deny the swagger and the attitude this kid plays with, making him someone who’s well beyond his years. Every time he touches the puck, you know you’re in for something special.
28- The trio of Josh Bailey, John Tavares and Anders Lee is the best first line the team has had in almost three decades. These three just feed off each other and are so set in what they are going to do. If you’ve watched them throughout the year, any time that line is on the ice, they can score.
29- Anders Lee is the most under appreciated of the trio. Lee — who doesn’t get the fanfare like Tavares and Bailey — just goes about his business every night. He has produced at just about the same rate as John and Josh, and on other nights has carried this team on his back.
30- Josh Bailey is now elite. It’s been a long time coming, but his production and his ability to drive this team can’t be denied anymore.
31- We’re seeing the best John Tavares of his career. Tavares is playing at an MVP caliber and seems to be more comfortable than we’ve ever seen in his nine years here.
32- It can be argued that the first line is the best line in the National Hockey League. The numbers and nightly production speaks for itself.
33- The team without a doubt boasts their best top-six since the dynasty era.
34- Despite right now only having two lines producing, the firepower the Islanders offense contains allows the team to never be out of a game, despite the defecit facing them.
35- Barclays Center — aside from all its negative quirks — has become a home-ice advantage for the Isles. The Islanders definitely are a completely different club at home then on the road.
36- The Islanders have still yet to figure it out on the road. Watching the team away from Brooklyn, it’s clear they make more mistakes and let the games get away from them quicker than usual.
37- The blowouts need to stop.
38- From top to bottom, this team needs to play with a little bit more anger and hostility. I’m not calling the team soft, but their have been one or more occasions where the team looks throttled and overwhelmed.
39. They need to be ready to start games. Too many times this season, the Islanders not only allow the first goal of the game, but they let the opposing team dictate the pace, leading them to fight from behind right off the bat.
40- We have not seen the best Islanders team yet. The offense has been lights out, but the defense and goaltending have underwhelmed. If they can get all three facets on the same page, the team will be off and running.
41- I still think this team is a playoff team. But if they don’t make it, change is a must have.