Is there anyone who really expected this kind of resurgence for the New York Islanders?
Through 25 games, the Isles sit tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins atop the Metropolitan Division, they’ve got the seventh best goal differential in the NHL, and they’ve got young, explosive talents that have been cause for some to start comparing these teams to those of the Islanders dynasty of the 1980s.
Simply put, these aren’t even close to the Islanders we’re used to seeing.
It was a busy off-season in New York, and it was a shocking one. While often thought of as one of the worst managed teams in the league, the Islanders and GM Garth Snow quickly became the talk of the NHL. With the signing of Jaroslav Halak, the team solidified their goaltending. Then, as reports were circulating that the Islanders were about to acquire defenseman Johnny Boychuk from the Boston Bruins, the team scooped up Chicago’s young defenseman Nick Leddy before shocking everyone and also picking up Boychuk.
Boychuk, now injured, has been a big part of the turn around, as has Leddy. Oh, and as for Halak, he just tied Islanders legend Billy Smith’s record with his tenth consecutive win. I guess you can say things are going the right way.
The Islanders also added Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski, two advanced stats darlings who have helped round out an Islanders team that, on paper and on the ice, looks primed to compete. You won’t find many that will argue with that, either.
When it comes to possession metrics, the team is near the top of the league in Corsi For and Fenwick For percentages. There are few teams who start shifts in the offensive zone more often. And when it comes to PDO, which can be a predictor of whether or not the Islanders results are just a matter of luck, their 99.7, a combination of shooting percentage plus save percentage, doesn’t seem to indicate a slide is coming. It's a complete turn around from years past, too, in which the Islanders were nearly the worst in several metrics.
As for the comparisons to the dynastic Islanders, it’s never easy to liken teams from different eras. That said, the young talent and steady dedication to developing their players in the American League before bringing them along gives reason for New York fan to be hopeful. And like those dynasties, the talent is primarily home grown.
While you'll always have John Tavares and Kyle Okposo to look forward to in New York, the real surprise is the depth of scoring. Be it breakout star Brock Nelson, the inspiring two-way play of Ryan Strome, or even the contributions from down the roster like the goals from Casey Cizikas and Matt Martin, this New York team is winning in ways that few thought possible from a squad that had been mired at the bottom of the standings for so long.
Denis Potvin, once the captain of the Islanders and one of the team’s greatest stars during their dynasty years, may have put it best when talking to New York media. Potvin said this team is on the first step towards greatness, but they’ll only achieve that by feeling the sting of defeat in the playoffs, much like his Islanders had to back before Stanley Cups became commonplace for those teams.
Like other teams that have risen from some dark years – the Los Angeles Kings, Chicago Blackhawks, and Boston Bruins come to mind – the New York Islanders finally look ready. If they’re to compete for a Cup is to be seen, but that next step is certainly coming.