The Islanders’ young core has positioned the team for its first back-to-back playoff appearances since the 2001-02 and 2002-03 seasons. Let’s take a look at what aspects of the game the Isles are excelling at and which could use improvement.
The Islanders average 2.70 goals per game, which is the eighth-best mark in the NHL. They are led in the scoring department by Brock Nelson (19 goals, 29 points), John Tavares (16 goals, 34 points), Frans Nielsen (14 goals, 30 points) and Kyle Okposo (12 goals, 35 points), and these four lead all forwards on the club in average TOI. Checking-line stalwart Cal Clutterbuck has made the most of his opportunities this season, adding 10 goals to the cause on just 46 shots.
The Islanders’ blueliners give up their fair share of shots (30.2 per game, only 12th-best in the league) but they are very careful with the puck. Calvin de Haan has the most giveaways among Isles defensemen (32), but that mark is only 64th-worst among all NHL skaters. No other Isles defenseman ranks in the top 100 in that category. Only Nick Leddy has a negative plus/minus rating (minus-11), but he makes up for it by contributing the most points on the club among defenseman (18). This unit has been missing Johnny Boychuk for about a month but he is supposed to return soon, and that will be a boon for the entire team.
Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss have both been solid between the pipes for the Isles this season. Halak has a 2.14 GAA and a .923 save percentage in 26 starts, while Greiss has a 2.32 GAA and a .927 save percentage in 21 starts. But there is no goaltender controversy, as Greiss has struggled lately; he put up a 3.00 GAA while filling in for an injured Halak for five straight games from Dec. 27 through Jan. 3, so expect to see Halak on the ice early and often from now through the end of the season.
Jack Capuano has done a great job managing this young team, and he gets them to respond when the going gets tough. Such was the case on Monday night, when the Isles came out sluggish and fell behind to the Red Wings, 1-0. Capuano decided to rearrange the lines midway through the contest and it paid off, as Tavares found Nelson for the Islanders’ first tally of the contest shortly after the lines were changed.
“Fortunately when we did [change our lines] we got a little bit of game back,” Capuano said of the move on Monday night. “We were flat, I just tried to do something to ignite these guys and give them a chance.”
Also, the Islanders’ penalty kill has been a source of pride all season; they are second-best in the league at 87.2 percent.