The New York Islanders just past the quarter point of the 2019-20 season, and while they’ve set themselves up quite nicely moving forward, things could be better.
Since establishing a new franchise record for games with a point (17), the team has hit a bit of a lull. That lull is 2-3-1 in their past six games — those regulation losses to the bottom-feeding Kings, Ducks and struggling Canadiens — and mustering up just ten goals following a stretch where they were averaging 3.52 goals per game. But the good thing is that amid this dry spell, the Isles still sit second in the Metropolitan Division with 38 points.
I don’t believe we’ve seen just how good the Islanders can be this season. It’s reminiscent of the path we saw this Isles club forge last year.
You have to remember that last year — the first season under head coach Barry Trotz’s new system — the Isles didn’t fully put the league on notice until late December. From late December until about mid-February, they were almost unbeatable. Then they stumbled a bit down the stretch but got hot just in time for the playoffs where they swept Pittsburgh in the first round. Welp, this season almost seems like it’s reverse psychology. Basically unbeatable from the third week of the season until late November and the only difference being they’ve won in every conceivable way possible while season they just dominated teams from the jump.
With that being said, a lot of things can happen over the next few months that can change the dynamic of a season. That’s why there’s most certainly another level they can take their game to.
Starting with the offense, there are more contributions to be made.
During the point streak, they received nothing from their two best goal scorers — Jordan Eberle and Anders Lee; those guys are now off the snide and seemed to have restored their confidence. The fact still remains though, Lee has just seven goals in 26 games and Eberle two in 16 games played. Cutting Eberle some slack because he missed a month with an injury should be noted, but both have to be major factors as the season presses on. When Lee and Eberle are playing at the high level they’re capable of together or individually, they’re very tough to contain.
— Rob Taub (@RTaub_) December 3, 2019
Mathew Barzal, Brock Nelson, Anthony Beauvillier and Derick Brassard get a pass for how strong they’ve been, but the rest of the forward group isn’t clicking as a whole. Trotz has been forced to do something he’s not used to — bringing out the blender with the lines and forced to conjure up a makeshift third line. That’s not how the Islanders are successful from what we’ve seen. No, what makes the Isles successful is rolling all four lines. It’s the formula that works. And when it does to a tee, it makes them one of the toughest teams to beat in the league.
I also don’t think we’ve experienced yet how much more superior the team can be on the blue line and in goal.
Granted, the Islanders remain atop the league in both categories, so it’s definitely difficult to critique them. Still, Ryan Pulock and Devon Toews — who have been good, not great this year — have elite potential that can be unlocked. The same goes for Adam Pelech, who is the Isles’ best d-man at the moment. Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk, the elder statesmen of the blueline, continue to roll with the punches.
Then there’s Noah Dobson.
Dobson, supposedly the best defensive prospect in the organization, hasn’t been given the green light yet to show why he’s a major piece for the future. He should be in Bridgeport tearing apart the minors, but he remains here which is another bullet waiting to be released from the Isles’ chamber. Dobson will get his moment soon — maybe hopefully as the team reaches the dog days of the season — and once he does, he will make an already impressive Isles d-corps that much more vigorous.
The numbers say you can’t ask much more of two goaltenders — both in the top ten of goals-against average — but Thomas Greiss and Semyon Varlamov have been intertwined in this strict goalie rotation by Trotz. Neither though has taken the reigns of the proverbial number one spot. Soon enough it’s going to happen where one of them gets a string of games and solidifies themselves as the “guy”. A goalie rotation won’t be doable once the postseason rolls around.
Right now, the Islanders can play .500 hockey the rest of the way and still have enough points to make the playoffs for a second consecutive season. In no way should that be the expectation moving forward. The level of play from the Isles thus far has been suitable, maybe even beyond belief at times. But there’s going to come a point this year where we see this team truly unleashed.
When will that moment come? Who knows. One thing is for certain, it is coming.
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