The Incredible Islanders

Franklin Markel, staff writer

I’m with you, New York sports aren’t anything to write home about. Both of our local football teams would be lucky to be considered mediocre, our basketball teams are laughable, and the Rangers and Devils are closer to the cellar of the league than a playoff spot. If you’re looking for any local team, that is worth watching, look no further than Long Island. The New York Islanders, the typical laughing stock of the National Hockey League, have used a historic run to propel them near the top of the league standings.  (All Stats as of December 8th)

The Islanders, who have cooled down recently but were the league’s hottest team for a month, sit nine points behind the league leading Capitals, and have three games in hand (a possible six points.) After starting the season 1-3, the Islanders caught fire. The isles won their next 10 games before an overtime loss against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Islanders than rattled off another five wins before an overtime loss to the San Jose Sharks. That stretch placed the Islanders inches from the league’s top spot. Since that the Islanders have cooled off, going 3-4 in their last seven games. 

The way the Islanders are winning games is demanding attention as well. The Isles are playing great defensive hockey, and it starts with their goaltenders. The Islanders use a goalie tandem, so both Thomas Greiss and Semyon Varlamov see plenty of ice time. Greiss has appeared in 15 games while Varlamov has in 16. The reason the appearances are basically even is both goalies are having career seasons. No matter who’s in between the pipes for the Islanders, goals will be hard to come by. Both goalies rank top 10 in save percentage above expected which is a major metric in determining the strength of goalies. 

Good goalies often are left to dry by bad defenses, fortunately for the Islanders that’s not the case. The Islanders mix veterian grit with promising youth players on the blue line. Both Johnny Boychuck and Nick Leddy have been around the block and are playing well. Young guns Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech have both been shutdown defensemen as well and that d-pair can shut down any top line. All in all, it’s been a great defensive performance for the Islanders so far. 

The Islanders’ forwards are the concern. Center and All-star Mat Barzal is elite, but there isn’t much depth past that. Jordan Eberle has been cold all season and Josh Bailey can’t seem to find any chemistry with any other forwards. If the Islanders want to prove they’re legit, they’ll need to make some moves in the forward market. 

The good thing about this squad is what their strength is. Offense can go cold, but good defense always stays. Last season this squad was eliminated in the second round of the playoffs because a cold streak by the offense, if they can avoid that down the stretch of the season the Islanders should be threats for the Stanley Cup. Those are words I would’ve never thought I would say a few years ago.