It was unanimously expected that the Metropolitan Division would be one of the toughest divisions in the NHL. So far, that script has stayed predictable as the all eight teams are separated by just five points as we approach the quarter mark of the season.
What wasn’t such a unanimous pick was that the New York Islanders were going to be one of those teams mounting a serious challenge for the division. While there is still plenty of time for the balance of power to shift, the Brooklynites were one point back of the top spot entering Monday night.
They have an explosive offense to thank for that as their 73 goals scored in 20 games this season ranks third-best in the league behind only the Tampa Bay Lightning — the NHL’s best team which they defeated 4-3 on Saturday night — and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
At this time last season, the Islanders only had 49 goals scored as a team by their 20th game. Though they did turn things around in the second half of the season to finish 11th in the league in scoring, though they didn’t make the playoffs.
There was not much evidence that things would change for the better this season, though. New York’s major acquisition of trading for Jordan Eberle expected to give captain John Tavares the elite winger he has been starved of during his first eight NHL seasons.
But the two struggled to click as the first line failed to pack the intended punch it looked like it would have provided on paper.
So head coach Doug Weight shuffled things around by…restoring the changes he made to his first line during the offseason. He put Josh Bailey back on Tavares’ right wing while also rejoining Anders Lee on the left.
Things immediately clicked as the trio are experiencing huge starts to their season.
Tavares ranks second in the NHL with 15 goals while Bailey is fifth with 19 assists. Lee, who had just 18 assists last season to go with 34 goals, already has 10 helpers along with 11 goals. All three of them rank within the league’s top-20 point getters.
What really gives the Islanders’ offense an added dimension is their second line. It’s difficult to call Eberle’s move to the second line a demotion considering he has woken up from a slow start that saw him go goalless through the first 10 games of the season.
In the last 10 games, he has seven goals. He’s been the benefactor of flanking rookie center Mathew Barzal, who is one of the best young playmakers the league has to offer given his supreme puckhandling and impressive vision. No other rookie in the NHL has more points than the 20-year-old Barzal.
New York will need that kind of offensive production to continue considering there are questions in the defense. The Islanders have allowed 66 goals this season while goaltenders Thomas Greiss and Jaroslav Halak don’t rank within the league’s top-40 in save percentage and goals against average.