With the All-Star game now complete, the second half of the season began on Tuesday with a matchup against the Capitals in Brooklyn. The Islanders currently sit in 11th place in the Eastern Conference with 51 points in 47 games, 5 points behind 8th place Philadelphia. The playoffs are within reach, after going 7-1-2 in their last ten games before the break, which allowed them to jump the rest of the also-rans in the east. The top of the Eastern Conference is performing to expectations, the bottom half have failed to live up to theirs. During the previous 3 seasons the 8th seed had an average of 96 points, keeping their current pace this years’ 8th seed will have about 92 but it may only take 90. To reach that threshold the Isles need only 45 points in 35 remaining games, which is a manageable pace for a decent team. A quick look at the standings show the Isles have almost climbed out of the hole they buried for themselves. The current top 6 in the east will make the playoffs baring a collapse. The next two spots are up for grabs. The first position is an Atlantic Division spot currently held by Boston. The Bruins have 56 points in 52 games, when projected over a full season (with their current pace) they would end up with 88.3 points. They also have a -4 goal differential. Next are the Toronto Maple Leafs who have 55 points in 47 games for a full season pace of 95.9 points and a +12 goal differential, that actually makes the Leafs the third (maybe even second best team in the Atlantic). The two Metro teams competing for the final Wildcard spot are the Flyers who have 56 points in 50 games. In a full season that would stretch out to 91.8 points along with a -15 goal differential. Lastly the Islanders have 51 points in 47 games which over a full season would be 88.9 points with an even goal differential.
There is still a lot of work before making the playoffs, all this proves is that writing off the season may have happened prematurely. The rest of the east has fallen back to the Islanders more than the Isles charging up the standings. This team has found some positive things in the first half of the season which they will look to carry onto the second half.
The Islanders have played better hockey after returning from their western swing. Starting with a 2-1 victory over the Florida Panthers on January 11th they are 7-1-1 in that stretch and it has to do with the captain John Tavares. Tavares has been the best player in the league over that stretch scoring 8 goals and 5 assists. No player has as many goals or points during that stretch. If this is Tavares turning it on the Islanders stand a chance moving forward through the rest of the season. Maybe he was undeserving of the All-Star appearance when he was named to the team but he was deserving by the time he arrived in Los Angeles.
The biggest surprise this season has been the continued play of Thomas Greiss. While Greiss excelled last season, it came out of nowhere. Before last season he was nothing but a backup who had a couple, month stretch of playing well. This season he continued it. He currently sits 5th in the league in save percentage with a .928. The Islanders are 24-14-7 with him between the pipes which may be good enough to carry them to the playoffs. It may be time to consider Greiss a starting goaltender in the league.
The final two surprises this season have been Josh Bailey and Dennis Seidenberg. Bailey who has disappointed many has put together a nice season getting to play on the first line. He has already matched last season’s points output and is well on his way to having a career season. Seidenberg was a late addition to the team and has been one of the best defenseman this season. He has already passed his offensive totals from the last three seasons and is on his way to a career high in plus/minus.
The next landmark date is March 1st which is the NHL trade deadline. Up until a few weeks ago, it looked like the Isles were going to trade almost anybody with value in efforts to reboot the team but now those plans look to be hold. Moving players like Seidenberg, Kulemin, and Chimera for draft picks/cap space may be premature. Between now and the trade deadline the Isles play almost half of their remaining schedule with six games at home and eight of them on the road. This does not mean that they should be looking to make big time improvements. This team is still not good enough to make short sighted trades in order to make a playoff appearance.
There is cautious optimism around the playoffs for the first time all season. According to Hockey Reference the Isles have a 30 percent chance to make the playoffs which actually makes them the favorite to grab the eighth seed. If the first 47 games have taught us anything about this team it’s that they will need an MVP like second half from John Tavares along with Thomas Greiss continuing his top-level play in net. A playoff series should not be considered a successful season but maybe it won’t be a complete waste.