On Tuesday night, the Islanders scored four or more goals for the sixth time in eight games, establishing New York as the best — and deepest — attack in the league.
Asked to run down a list of the top attacks in the league, one might name the Tampa Bay Lightning, led by star duo Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos, the St. Louis Blues, who are being powered by a top unit of Brayden Schenn, Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko, or even the Toronto Maple Leafs, who were the first team to reach 90 goals this season by downing the Calgary Flames 4-1 on Tuesday.
If we’re talking game-by-game impact, though, the team with the most fearsome offense at this point in the season is the New York Islanders.
With a five-goal outing against the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday evening, the Islanders moved past the Lightning to become the league’s top-scoring team, jumping up to a remarkable 3.67 goals per game through 24 contests. The 5-2 victory over Vancouver also gave New York another feather in their cap, too, as it was the 14th time this season and sixth time in the past eight games the Islanders offense put four or more on the board. No team has produced four-plus goals on as many occasions. And remarkable as New York’s rate of scoring is, it’s somehow even more impressive when considering this is a club that scored 2.91 goals per game last season and didn’t have a single player in the top 20 in league scoring.
That’s not to ignore the fact the Islanders do have John Tavares guiding the offense, however, and guide the offense he has. After potting a goal Tuesday, Tavares pushed his total to 16, two off the league lead, and his two-point night brought his total to 28 on the year. If he were to maintain his current rate, Tavares would finish the campaign with a career-best 55 goals and 96 points, and it’s not as though either mark is out of the question. He has thrice broken the 30-goal plateau, once flirted with the 40-goal mark and hovered around a point per game for the better part of his career. In fact, his current scoring rate, 1.17, is only slightly higher than his 2013-14 mark of 1.12, which makes it all the more fathomable that Tavares could keep this up for the duration of the campaign.
But Tavares isn’t the lone driver of the Islanders’ offense through the first 24 games of the season. Far from it, really. While he’s technically higher on the scoring leaderboard by virtue of his goal total, his 28 points put him into a tie with Josh Bailey for the team lead. And if there’s anyone who has surprised this season, it has been Bailey. His five goals are already nearly half of the 13 he produced last season in little more than one-quarter of the time and his 28 points are indeed half of what he managed in a full 82-game campaign in 2016-17. If Bailey continues to score at this rate, he’ll have surpassed his previous career best — last year’s 56-point campaign — by an eye-bulging 40 points.
Bailey’s not the only one surprising, however. Mathew Barzal continues to be an absolute offensive dynamo as a freshman, putting up another point Tuesday to bring his total to 24 and put him on pace for an 82-point campaign. Jordan Eberle has hit 10 goals already, half of last season’s total, and is scoring at a rate even to that of his career-best 34-goal season. And then there’s Anders Lee, currently projected to finish the year with 40-plus goals, and defenseman Nick Leddy, who’s current point pace would see him finish with nearly 70 points. This is to say that the scoring depth for the Islanders has been as good, if not better, than any other team in the league. Eight players have scored at least five goals for the Islanders this season, and only the Vegas Golden Knights and New York Rangers can say the same.
Does this offensive firepower make the Islanders a true contender, though? Is New York really a frontrunner in the Metropolitan Division after missing the post-season by a paper-thin margin last season? One might look at their standing in the division — second place, ahead of the New Jersey Devils by virtue of a tiebreaker — and suggest it does. After all, it’s no easy feat to find a spot in the standings ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, New York Rangers and much-improved Carolina Hurricanes.
A more cautious observer, however, might suggest this Islanders group still has some steps to take, especially as many of their victories have been predicated upon outrunning their defensive woes.
Through 24 games, the Islanders have allowed 75 goals against, the 12th-most in the league, while boasting a 3.13 goals-against-per-game rate, better than only nine other teams. New York also boasts the 20th-ranked penalty kill at 79.2 percent and there aren’t many teams who’ve allowed more shots on goal, as the Islanders are currently surrendering 32.3 per game. Only nine teams have had a defense more porous. According to Natural Stat Trick, New York’s rates per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 have also been no better than average. The Islanders rank 15th in shot attempts against, 14th in actual shots against and are bottom 10 in the league in both scoring chances and high-danger attempts against. The goaltending, as well, has been mediocre. Thomas Greiss and Jaroslav Halak have split the starts, teaming up for a .903 save percentage and 3.11 goals-against average.
If the Islanders’ offense continues to score as it has, though, it would seem the only thing standing between New York and a playoff appearance, as well as some post-season success, is a more stringent defense, a matter that is up to Islanders GM Garth Snow to address. And if New York can fine-tune their play inside their own zone and trim the fat from their bloated goals against totals, the offense appears as though it may be talented enough, and deep enough, to propel this team back to the dance.
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