What’s Up with the Islanders?
The Islanders may or may not be for real, but there is most definitely progress being made here. The franchise itself has not seen much luck with the goalie Rick Dipietro having been injured pretty much every year since 07-08, yet still carries a massive long term deal that most fans wish the Islanders would opt out of in a heartbeat. The headache and a distraction that turned out to be a simple trade for Lubmir Visnovsky, as well as other mishaps along the way, have resulted in the Islanders leaving Long Island and moving to the new Barclay building in Brooklyn, New York.
So while the new Building is nice (click here for my article on the Islanders re-location), the product on the ice has to be even nicer, and this is where Grath Snow patients have paid of in spades, at least for now.
I was really kind of hyped-up about watching the New York Rangers play the Pittsburgh Penguins in what should have been a battle of two teams fighting for first place in the Atlanic division. You have Rick Nash, Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik, Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, and superstar goalies in Henrik Lundqvist and Thomas Vokoun. Should be a no brainer game to be the highlight of the night and if this was the NFL, no doubt, this would be the Monday Night Football game of the NHL.
But it wasn’t.
The game turned out to be a bore-fest and I quickly found myself watching the Devils play the Islanders (which traditionally sounds about as appealing as scraping a chesse grater on one’s arm). The game had more pace to it and felt quicker. Both teams were flying down the ice and the NY Islanders seemed poised to take over the lead in the Atlantic after jumping to a two-to-nothing lead over the Devils in the early minutes of the second period with another power play goal from Keith Auccoin, with Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald getting the assists – not exactly a star studded affair, eh? Yet this is the same power play that went two for two against the Penguins and has been fairly successful so far this season.
The first goal was scored by non other than John Tavares, he leads the team with 11 points and 24 shots on net. His leadership and lead-by-example attitude really fits in on this team of unwanted waiver pick-ups and other teams’ throw-aways. Guys like Michael Grabner (4 goals in 7 games), Brad Boyes (6 points in 7 games), and Keith Aucoin (4 goals in 7 games), have found new homes with the Isles, and unlike some players, did not complain about the move and rather took this as an opportunity to prove themselves.
The only team to score more goals than the Islanders (27 GF) is Tampa Bay Lightning (37), and they have that 60-goal scorer, what’s his name.
While the New York Rangers are struggling to find offense and struggling to stop the puck (kinda important in hockey), and currently are minus 4 in goal differential, the Islanders are plus four and sit with a nice 4-2-1 record atop the Atlantic division, currently sharing the point lead with the Devils.
The Islanders are a young team and multiple times this year they have found themselves displaying some signs of this immaturity. Four minutes after taking the two-nothing lead, they let the Devils tie the game. This happened to the team before in their game against the Tampa Bay Lightning where they let a four-nothing lead nearly slip away by allowing two quick goals in the third. The same thing happened in the third against the Jets, with a 4-2 lead in the third period the Islanders allowed the Jets to score two goals almost one minute apart that forced the game into OT and eventually losing to an Evander Kane goal.
Maybe this is why this team is so exciting to watch. You really never know and nothing is fore sure. They managed to crawl back against the Toronto Maple Leafs on to a 7-4 route, but they also found a way to play a sound defensive game against the Penguins and held on to a 4-1 victory. This kind of exciting fast-paced hockey is FUN to watch, but maybe a bit less FUN for a coach.
While the Islanders find plenty offense, their five on five play may need some tightening up. The team has only three players whose plus/minus is positive and their top three players, based on minutes played per game, combine for a -6 rating. On the plus side the same three combined for 10 points. Nobakovs’ save percentage is nothing to write home about either, .906, and DiPietros is even worse, be it only after one game, at .852.
So far, no matter how, the Isles found ways to win and tonight they seemed destined to do the same.
But this game against the Devils turned out to be another nightmarish scenario for the Long Island faithful as every time the Isles took the lead the Devils found a way to tie the game. With a 4-4 tie at the end of regulation time, the Islanders had the lead three times. It looked like one of those games where the Devils were poised to steal a game. Yet, another Long Island hero and a player who seemed to be on the end shift of his career comes through for them. Brad Boyes found the puck in a messy scrap in a Brodeurless crease to give the Islanders its fourth and final lead of the game.
My friend who is an Islanders fan said not to write anything good about the team, so as to not jinx the Islanders and how good they have been playing, but I can’t not comment on it. In the midst of heightened expectation for the Flyers, Rangers, and Penguins, these teams find themselves struggling and slipping in the standings behind a young and hungry team. I know it has been only 7 games and the Islanders do not exactly have the best five on five stats, yet I am excited to watch this team. A team built with the lightest budgets and zero expectations. A team that is simply playing hard, fast, fun and most of all good hockey right now. A team that I will be watching more this year and hope the success continues.