Many people in the hockey community accept Thanksgiving as the first checkpoint of the season. Furthermore, it is often viewed as the point at which most, if not all, playoff teams can be determined by. Of course, nothing is set in stone by now, especially in the wild card slots of both conferences, but to be sitting in the top three of a division right now is at least a good sign of whether or not a team is for real. Certainly no one outside of New Jersey predicted the Devils would be playing this well, but I’d think it is safe to say they are a playoff team at the moment.
Although the Islanders haven’t come out as stellar as the Devils or the Bruins (39 and 38 pts), they are in a great position after 24 games. The Isles are currently 3rd in the metro with 30 pts, behind Carolina (31 pts) and followed closely by Pittsburgh (28 pts), and the Rangers (26 pts). Although the Isles are in a good spot, there is still a tight race to play out over the next month and beyond.
After a sloppy start, the Islanders have kept the trajectory high with solid goaltending, massive comeback wins, and an overall grit that makes them hard to play against. Let’s take a look at how they have performed thus far.
Before we begin, it would be criminal to pass over some gnarly fourth-line stats from Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck. Martin has now exceeded 100 fights in the NHL, which is an insane stat that demonstrates how long he has been around punching heads and crushing opponents, and we love him for it!
His buddy on the right wing, Clutterbuck, has officially set the record for most hits in the NHL at 3,635 hits! Now, this stat wasn’t measured until the ‘05-06 season, but nonetheless it is his record to be broken after passing Dustin Brown (3,632 hits). We are all hoping for a quick return to the lineup so he can continue punishing opposing players with the greatest fourth line in hockey.
OFFENSE – A-
Last season gave us a good long look at what weaknesses this team had, and the primary concern was offensive output. This season, however, the boys have all been contributing to the stat sheet. Guys like Barzal, Nelson, and Lee are still leading the team in production with 26, 23, and 19 points respectively. Barzal has over a PPG even with just two goals, currently holding 2nd place for most assists with 24. The lack of goals is not of much concern considering the significance of the overall output. Nelson leads the team with 11 goals, and only two players on the team have 0 goals that have played more than 5 games (Romanov and Cizikas).
The Islanders have made easily observable improvements on the speed of their game. They are producing more chances and taking more shots, and more importantly they are capitalizing. With a more offensive mindset, the team is getting contributions from all players. The young defensemen, Noah Dobson, is fourth in Islander scoring so far with 7 goals and 9 assists (16 pts), serving as a shot machine from the top right point.
Kyle Palmieri has stepped it up since last year (6 goals currently) and helped us get a few wins with timely goals early in the season, but he has just been placed on IR. Cal Clutterbuck is also day-to-day with an upper body injury. Bardreau and Fasching have been called up from Bridgeport for the time being.
Some of the most notable efforts on this roster belong to third line guys like Pageau, Wahlstrom, and Parise. Pageau has been on a tear in the last several weeks with big time plays on both sides of the ice. He continues to maintain a faceoff percentage above 50% through 24 games (56.62%) and is looked upon as a leader on this team. Oliver Wahlstrom (12 pts in 23 GP) has had more opportunities to play with Barzal and on the power play, as well as chipping in with two fights against Toronto’s Rasmus Sandin and every Islander fan’s least favorite Flyer, Tony DeAngelo. Zach Parise remains a fan-favorite with his consistent efforts, which are finally paying off on the score sheet, as well (7G – 4A – 11P). He has played 105 consecutive games with the team, and is 1st in GP, goals, and overall points amongst all 79 players in the league making league minimum ($750k) and is also the oldest on that list at 38 years old. Parise is considered one of the best bargains in the NHL at this point.
Having different players chipping in at different times has allowed this Islanders team to unlock the scoring they couldn’t find in previous years.
DEFENSE – B+
The Islanders defense has not been a major concern since Barry Trotz took over in 2018-19. He turned us around from the worst to the best in terms of goals against, and the structure he instilled can still be seen in their play now. Under Lambert, they have abandoned being an absolute shutdown team and give up a lot more chances than they had with Trotz, but that style has allowed the team to capitalize on the offensive skill lying dormant for a while (with the exception of Brock Nelson and Anders Lee). We still have Alexander Romanov playing a physical game alongside Dobson who is scoring still after his breakout year last season. Dobson does have the worst +/- on the team, but even then it is only at -3… The fact that the Islanders are 24 games in with a +18 goal differential is a blessing for most Isles fans.
With that said, I still find myself nervous throughout every game as we do let up dangerous chances a lot more often. The Islanders are 28th in the NHL for GA/GP with 2.58, and have an average of 33 shots against per game played. Luckily, we have been able to match our opponents most nights and squeak out wins when we don’t seem to deserve them, speaking to a grittier style of play that we haven’t always seen when going down in a game. Last season may have left a sense of uncertainty about the projection for the next few years of Islanders hockey, but there is a visible difference in effort from this team now. When we are down by two goals in the third, I don’t have that same sense of despair that we are for sure not coming back. This is a team that calls for a lot more faith than previously expected.
Our penalty kill remains a valuable part of our success, with the Islanders currently at 5th in the league with 83.1% of power plays killed.
GOALTENDING – A+
Ilya Sorokin is a wall, and there is not much else that needs to be said about his game. With a 10-6 record in 16 games, he has a 2.18 GAA and .933 save percentage. Sorokin is 3rd in the league amongst tenders to have played at least 10 games. His 49-save shutout against McDavid and the Oilers was a beautiful thing to witness live at UBS Arena last week.
Semyon Varlamov (2.84 GAA, .916 SV% in 8 games) has continued to prove that he is solid support for Sorokin as number one and can get us wins when we need them, also. He sits at 5-3 so far and is certainly not forgotten by the Isles fanbase. The Islanders continue to possess one of the best goalie tandems in the NHL, and we can’t rule out a possible Vezina trophy for the White Whale at the end of the season.
OVERALL – A-
At this point in the season, the New York Islanders have proven to be a team that will make a push for playoffs and possibly the Cup again (far too early to judge that, though). But the Metropolitan division is going to be a battle for a while and the Isles need to keep winning games. They certainly can’t afford any massive losing streaks at the moment. Under the leadership of Lane Lambert, this team has worked towards creating a culture and a structure of play that will help us last the duration of a grueling NHL season in the top ranks, and as an Islander fan, it feels great to have faith in this team and I am excited to see how the rest of the year plays out!
The Islanders look for revenge against the Nashville Predators at UBS Arena on Friday, December 2nd @ 730pm.