WOW… What can I say? Normally I am a doubter when it comes to the Islanders, but maybe Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz have turned this team around? Early on in the season, they are getting out much more from every one of their players than Garth Snow, Doug Weight, Jack Capuano, etc. ever did.
The result? First place in the Metropolitan Division.
This is a feat that no one ever expected the Islanders to reach at all this season, but here they are in sole ownership of the top spot.
This is due to a multitude of things, but the first reason is obviously the coaching staff. Barry Trotz is one of the best coaches in the NHL, and with his systems in place, the team is putting a much better product on the ice.
The second is goaltending, as Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss have both showed improvement in their games compared to last season. Why? Again, because of better coaching. When Trotz took the job with the Islanders, Mitch Korn came with him. Korn is known for his great goaltending coaching ability, and has worked with Trotz through the years with Nashville, Washington, and now the Islanders.
The third is John Tavares leaving. No one seems to be missing Tavares now when the team is in first place, but imagine if he was on the team with that 11 million dollar contract? In terms of cap space, it was a good decision not to sign him, and the Islanders have been able to fill the hole. Brock Nelson has done an outstanding job with Josh Bailey and Anders Lee on the 1a line, as I like to call it. Then on line 1b, Trotz finally put Barzal, Eberle, and Beauvillier all back together (he never should have broken them up in the first place). This line has also done an amazing job since being put back together, and these two lines don’t seem to show the hole that Tavares left.
The fourth is goal differential. Yes, I could mention this with the coaching, but this is an overall team effort. Last season, the Islanders gave up the most goals in the NHL. Now, they are a +11 and have only given up 34 goals. That is fourth best in the NHL in goal difference and goals allowed if you’re wondering. Along with this, they have also had impressive special teams. While neither has been overly impressive, the Islanders are riding in the middle of the pack in both categories. This is much better than their last place penalty kill from a year ago. Goal difference though, is probably the biggest change in the Islanders from one year ago, and this will determine whether or not they continue to have success.
The fifth is the Islanders’ chip on their shoulder. Many people believed that this team was going no where at the beginning of the year, and now the Islanders are proving all of the doubters wrong by putting a nice point streak together early on in the season. No one really expected the Islanders to ever be in first place this year, and I think the players have been motivated by this. Finally, at last, the Islanders gained respect on the national stage and entered the NHL’s Super Sixteen coming in at number 15 as of November 1st. If they can continue to play like this, they will be in the top 10, if not higher, in no time.
Now 14 games into the season and on a seven-game point streak, the Islanders need to focus on keeping this momentum up. It is still going to be a challenge for this team to keep up this pace all year, just as it is for any team. Now though, the Islanders have put themselves in a position early to prove that they aren’t one of the worst teams in the NHL, and that they have the opportunity to make the Playoffs.