We’ve recently discussed how the Islanders, of all teams, are currently New York’s only hope at a championship until next fall. But now, we need to talk about how they’re currently one of the best teams in the NHL.
Tuesday night’s 4-1 triumph over the Ottawa Senators was the Islanders’ 10th-straight victory as they’ve catapulted into the top-three of the Eastern Conference during the early portions of the 2018-19 NHL season.
It’s just the second time in franchise history that the Islanders have a winning streak of 10 games or more. The first came 37 years ago when they put up a then-NHL-record 15-straight in 1982.
So here the Islanders are, for a second-straight year, getting it with a roster that leaves plenty to be desired on paper for the neutral hockey fan.
This team doesn’t have a transcendental goal scorer or a face outside of Mathew Barzal that is a household name amongst the hockey world.
They’re dealing with numerous injuries, too. First-line winger Jordan Eberle is out indefinitely with a vague lower-body injury. Veteran third-liner Leo Komarov — who has been looked upon to work with the team’s younger forwards — is battling an illness. Depth forward Tom Kuhnhackl’s leg is providing issues and so is fourth-line winger Matt Martin’s.
On top of that, top-pairing defenseman Nick Leddy has been day-to-day with a lower-body injury since the beginning of the month.
Much like the Yankees this summer, the Islanders have had the “next-man-up” mentality and it’s clearly working.
Noah Dobson, at just 19 years old, is providing solid minutes alongside veteran Johnny Boychuk in his first NHL games. It’s ensuring the league’s best defense — which was a title they also secured last season — hasn’t missed a beat.
Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech, both at just 25, have developed into the Islanders’ top defensive pairing while Scott Mayfield (27) and Devon Toews (25) could be a top pairing on plenty of NHL rosters.
Alongside the brilliant goaltending platoon of Semyon Varlamov and Thomas Greiss, the Islanders are averaging just 2.14 goals per game this season.
That foundation has afforded the Islanders offense the luxury of not necessarily being a top-tier unit in the East.
With 44 goals in 14 games this season, a 3.14 average per game, there seems to be plenty left to be desired when it comes to the attack. The fact of the matter, though, is that it’s a byproduct of head coach Barry Trotz’s defense-first system.
And still, Barzal is flirting with a 35-goal pace this season. So is Josh Bailey, who leads the team with 12 points (6 G, 6 A) and could be on his way to a second-ever 70-point season.
That all-important structure the Islanders have preached under Trotz has also allowed the team to simply plug and play with their minor-league talent.
Top prospect Oliver Wahlstrom, who is also 19, has started in each of the past eight games.
Cole Bardreau — who played in over 200 minor-league games before getting his call up to the NHL this season — has started the last seven. The 26-year-old scored his first-ever NHL goal on Tuesday night in what proved to be the game-winning penalty shot late in the second period to put the Islanders up 2-1.
Once again, the NHL media (or Canadian media) will continue to wait for the Islanders’ downfall as their “unsustainable” style of play will flame out soon enough.
The problem is that it’s been over 100 games since Barry Trotz and Lou Lamoriello took over and regardless of who is in the lineup, the Islanders haven’t come crashing down the standings, yet.
Something tells me they might have to wait a little while longer for that to happen, too.
The Islanders are back in action Thursday night at the Barclays Center against the Pittsburgh Penguins — the team they swept out of the first round of the playoffs last year.