The energy is palpable. Hempstead Turnpike is rocking like it is the 1980s, all thanks the New York Islanders.
Sitting at first place in the Metropolitan Division with 72 points, the Islanders are silently making a worst-to-first turnaround, shocking even the most loyal of fans.
Robin Lehner (17-8-4) and Thomas Greiss (16-8-2) have combined to form the NHL’s best goaltending tandem. Adam Pelech, Scott Mayfield, Johnny Boychuk and others have revitalized their careers, allowing the Islanders to improve to the NHL’s best defense. Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck are back, reuniting as the NHL’s best fourth line and helping the Islanders win games.
Being the best in the NHL has been commonplace for the Islanders this season, as they have risen to the top in many of the game’s statistical categories. Barry Trotz is the catalyst of this transformation, leading this surprising mix of young guns and grizzly veterans to greatness.
“It feels very similar to the first year (in Washington),” Trotz told Stephen Whyno of the Associated Press. “We were building something. We started with the structure and trying to make every moment count, the accountability, how we play, professionalism – all those things that make a pro athlete on and off the ice. We try to involve that with our organization as we did here. They’ve carried it on to the Stanley Cup, and we’re in the infancy stages.”
The Islanders faithful, a fanbase devoid of legitimate success for over 30 years, is embracing and savoring this magical run. After being gifted 21 games at Nassau Coliseum, fans are flocking to Fort Neverlose and giving the Islanders true home-ice advantage that is absent at Barclays Center.
This has stirred a debate over where the Islanders Playoff games — if they make it, which is becoming more and more likely each day — should be played. Corporate interests and suite sales lead one to believe Barclays Center will house the games, but basic pathos strings at the emotions, causing fans to yearn for Playoff games at the Barn.
Nonetheless, the fact that it is February and the Islanders are even in a picture, let alone in first place, is unbelievable considering how far this team has come. After an offseason from hell, the Islanders are back and continuing to prove people wrong every time they touch the ice.
No matter what happens the rest of the way, the Islanders play this season has revitalized a fanbase that has been waiting to explode for years. Finally, led by competent management and a complete team not led by just one individual, the Islanders are back.
The present is as bright as the future, and the blue and orange are relevant again.
The Playoffs are the floor for this team.
And the Stanley Cup is the ceiling.