Tuesday, January 20, 2015

N.Y. Islanders: Now Comes The Hard Part


2nd Place ~ Eastern Conference
31-14-1 (63 points)

New York Islanders: Eastern Conference Finally Catches A Break From Isles; Nothing Like An All-Star Game To Halt Their Momentum.

How do you bounce back from a 6-4 loss to the Canadiens?  By thumping the Flyers, 7-4, and reclaiming first place in the Eastern Conference (Tampa then played, and took over the #1 spot by a point).

The 1989-90 season was the last time the Islanders found themselves in 1st place by the all-star break.  When they reached 15 games over .500 earlier this season, it marked their best start since their Stanley Cup years.

It's been that kind of a season.  Ironically, it comes in the team's last year playing in Uniondale.   This coming October, the Islanders will inaugurate their first season in the Borough of Brooklyn.  For the moment, however, they seem intent on giving Long Island one last raucous June before they go.

They're young, strong, playing smartly, with confidence, and turning away league contenders faster than they can lace up.  Among their gains are triumphs over the Rangers; Bruins; Lightning; Penguins; Capitals; and Red Wings.  Out west, they've bested the Ducks; Kings; Blackhawks; Sharks; Jets; and Flames.

No team is perfect though.  The Habs and Blues both defeated the Isles a pair of times this season.   Otherwise, the Islanders have shown they can play with anyone.

By Tuesday morning, the Islanders led the NHL with 31 victories, and scored the 2nd most goals (3.15 per game) in the circuit; a mere goal behind the Tampa Bay Lightning.

All that scoring has shined a generous light on this year's goalie, and the Islanders defense; their two major weaknesses over the last two seasons.

If we take things at face value, Jaroslav Halak ranks 11th in (goalie) total ice time, his 2.41 GAA ranks 12th among goalies with 30+ starts this season, while his .910 SV% ranks 25th among goalies with 20+ starts.

However, the stability Halak has brought between the pipes alone, has so far made him worth every cent of his four-year, $18 million dollar pact.  He's 11th in the league with 34 starts, while his 25 victories are tied for 2nd with Anaheim's Frederik Andersen.  His four shutouts also rank 4th.

That's a major improvement over last season's 3-headed monster featuring 38-year old Evgeni Nabokov, Anders Nilsson, and Kevin Poulin.  The three combined on an .898 SV%, and a 3.00 GAA.

Nabokov led the pack with 38 starts, and posted a 15-14-8 record, with a .905 SV%, and a 2.74 GAA.
Poulin made 26 starts, and posted an 11-16-1 record, with an .891 SV%, and a lofty 3.29 GAA.   Kevin Poulin has one appearance for the Islanders this season.  Chad Johnson has been Halak's back-up this season, and so far has a 6-5-0 record in 13 games.

Garth Snow's off-season blue line acquisitions have also played huge roles in anchoring the Islanders defense.  Both Johnny Boychuck and Nick Leddy are tied for 6th in the NHL with a +15, while combining on 11 goals and 32 assists, for 43 points.

Defensively, Long Island presently ranks 21st in the league with 2.78 GA.  Last season, they finished 28th in the league with a 3.18 goals against average.

Moving forward, the Islanders must now do something to improve their penalty kill.  They've shown no improvement over last season's 29th ranking.  Although they moved up a notch to 28th this season, the fact is, they've regressed.  They finished last season with a 78.1% kill rate.  This year, they're killing penalties at a reduced 74.4% rate.

It's been a great first half of the season for Coach Capuano and the Islanders.  Other teams have gotten the message; they're good.

 Now comes the hard part; finishing.


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