When John Tavares left town, the New York Islanders were left for dead. That was unquestionably the vibe this past summer, and not just around here. It felt like the entire league had this team pegged as a “rebuilding team”, not ready to compete having lost an MVP-caliber player in an 11th-hour decision to go home to Toronto.
After an inconsistent first couple of weeks, it appears as if the Isles have found their groove and are playing better than anyone realistically had expected them to. A 7-4-1 record has them tied for first place in the Metropolitan Division with the Penguins and has given them an early leg-up in the marathon for the postseason.
Yes, it’s still very early. But the way the Islanders have been playing thus far, there’s no reason to think that the postseason is out of reach for this squad. The goaltending has been superb, with Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner having allowed just 30 goals over their first 12 games, nine below the league average.
Lehner has been dealing with some lower back issues, but hopefully, things will improve in short order. As per Andrew Gross of Newsday, he will be on the bench as Greiss’ backup tonight against the Devils.
The guys who were supposed to be lost without Tavares, Josh Bailey and new captain Anders Lee are one-and-two, respectively, in scoring for the Islanders. Bailey (13 points) has tallied three goals and 10 assists, and Lee has 12 points on five goals and seven assists. So much for that theory — haters.
Mathew Barzal is back to his antics, racking up 11 assists through the team’s first 12 games, and Valtteri Filppula, of all people, has four goals and three assists to bring up the back end of the Isles’ forward lines.
The three-man wrecking crew of Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas, and Cal Clutterbuck have been doing exactly what Lou Lamoriello, Barry Trotz, and every single fan has wanted them to do; turn up the volume on things when necessary.
The defensive aspect of the Islanders’ game has been up to the task, with Ryan Pulock leading the way on both sides of the blue line. He’s really blossoming into a terrific young player. Onward and upward, young man.
Jordan Eberle is making the most of what could be his final season with the Isles, playing the part of incredibly talented sparkplug pretty much whenever it’s needed. And how could we forget about Brock Nelson, who leads the team in goals (six), and looks — confidence-wise — like the player we all hoped he would become. And last, but not least, there’s Andrew Ladd, who is playing like he was back in Winnipeg.
Things are looking up, folks. Let’s enjoy it. Let’s go, Islanders.