One of the biggest clichés in hockey is that you need to be at or near a playoff spot once Thanksgiving rolls around. As of November 26th, the Islanders are one point behind the Blue Jackets for 2nd in the Metropolitan Division and two points of the surprisingly division-leading New Jersey Devils. New Jersey, Columbus, and the Isles all have played 23 games. The three closest teams below them are three bitter rivals. Sitting one point behind the Islanders are the Washington Capitals, but they have played two more games. The Rangers sit two points behind the Islanders, but the Islanders also have a game in hand. The two-time defending champion Penguins have played 25 games and are three points behind the Islanders. It’s hard not to like the Islanders’ position right now, especially when many pundits had the team’s ceiling as a bubble wild card team.
Individually, there’s a lot to like about this team too. The Islanders boast one of the league’s most potent scoring attacks, potting 84 goals in 23 games, just four goals less than the top-scoring Toronto Maple Leafs. It should, however, be noted that the Leafs have played two more games than the Islanders. It should come as no surprise then that numerous players are having excellent offensive years. Josh Bailey (!) is the team’s leading scorer with 28 points (5G 23A). John Tavares, who leads the team in goals, is hot on his tail with 26 points (15G 11A) and is on pace for what would be a career-high 92 points. Nick Leddy’s 20 points (6G 14A) may get him some consideration in the Norris Trophy voting while Anders Lee and rookie dynamo Mat Barzal are on a point-per-game pace (12G 11A and 6G 17A). Barzal, in particular, has been turning heads around the league with his rookie-leading point totals and is very much in the conversation for the Calder. Jordan Eberle’s solid 17 point season (9G 8A) makes his acquisition look like a stroke of genius, especially since he started playing with Barzal and Andrew Ladd.
There are some troubling signs, however. The Islanders’ 74 goals against is good for the 9th highest total in the league. Promising youngster Josh Ho-Sang has been frustratingly inconsistent, especially in the defensive zone. Goaltenders Thomas Greiss and Jaroslav Halak both have a .903 save percentage and 3.34 and 2.96 goals against averages respectively. And, probably most concerning of all, the arena situation still needs to be sorted out and JT has still not signed an extension.
In conclusion, it’s hard not to like what has been unfolding thus far this season if you’re an Islander fan. However, if we are to go on a deep playoff run, the defense needs to tighten up if we are to hang with the likes of Columbus or Tampa over the course of a seven-game series.