As much as the American and Canadian media wants to downplay it, the New York Islanders are one of the hottest teams in the NHL right now.
Barry Trotz’s men have won nine of their last 10 games, including six straight, which has kept them in the thick of an Eastern Conference playoff hunt that has seen the top teams beginning to distance themselves from the rest of the pack.
Their performance has been one of the biggest surprises of the 2018-19 season, seeing as many (including myself) believed they would be a bottom feeder in a stacked Metropolitan Division.
It was a logical prediction considering the Islanders, who had the league’s worst defense last year and missed the playoffs, did not do much to upgrade their roster on the ice. After losing former captain John Tavares and top-four defenseman Calvin de Haan to free agency, New York stood pat on the market rather than try and find any sort of upgrades.
Instead, the largest move was made in the front office and on the bench with the signing of Hall-of-Fame executive Lou Lamoriello as president and the Stanley Cup-winning head coach Trotz.
With competence at the helm, the Islanders have evolved into a structured, opportunistic team that has Trotz getting the most out of his team.
Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss are both having career years as one of the best goalie platoons in hockey while the defense, which now features youngsters Ryan Pulock and Devon Toews, has allowed the fewest goals in the NHL.
The turnaround at the back has taken pressure off the Tavares-less offense, which has exhibited an enigmatic mix of youth and veterans to ensure that the lamp is being lit enough.
Reigning NHL Rookie of the Year Mathew Barzal has shaken off a slow goal-scoring start and has been one of the most dangerous forwards in the league over the past two weeks.
While he went pointless during Saturday night’s win over the St. Louis Blues, the 22-year-old put together a six-game point streak that yielded eight goals and three assists. He has 17 points in his last 13 games.
The new captain of the Islanders, Anders Lee, is following up a 40-goal season with another strong campaign as he helps anchor the first line. With the halfway point of the season coming Tuesday night, the winger is on pace for a third-straight 30-goal season.
In the meantime, the signings of veterans Valtteri Filppula and Leo Komarov are paying off for Lamoriello and Co. Filppula was giving the Islanders a solid offensive boost before getting hurt while Komarov has been tasked in mentoring the likes of younger talents like Josh Ho-Sang.
While skeptics will throw advanced numbers and stats at you in an attempt to dissuade you from getting on the Islanders bandwagon, the simple eye test suggests that this team is very much a contender for a postseason spot.
Here are our grades for each Islanders player this season:
New York Islanders mid-season report card: 2018-19 season
Josh Bailey, RW: 40 games, 8 goals, 23 assists Grade: B
Mathew Barzal, C: 40 games, 12 G, 26 A Grade: A-
Anthony Beauvillier, LW: 39 games, 11 G, 5 A Grade: B-
Johnny Boychuk, D: 39 games, 3 A, 7 A, +5 rating Grade: B
Casey Cizikas, C: 33 games, 10 G, 7 A Grade: B+
Cal Clutterbuck, RW: 36 games, 2 G, 5 A Grade: C
Jordan Eberle, RW: 36 games, 8 G, 10 A Grade: C
Valtteri Filppula, C: 38 games, 9 G, 10 A Grade: B+
Thomas Greiss, G: 23 games, 12-7-1 record, .917 save percentage, 2.62 goals against average Grade: B+
Thomas Hickey, D: 32 games, 0 G, 4 A, +8 rating Grade: B-
Josh Ho-Sang, RW: 10 games, 1 G, 1 A Grade: B-
Leo Komarov, RW: 40 games, 5 G, 9 A Grade: B
Tom Kuhnhackl, RW: 19 games, 3 G, 3 A Grade: C-
Andrew Ladd, LW: 14 games, 3 G, 4 A Grade: D
Nick Leddy, D: 40 games, 1 G, 13 A, -1 rating Grade: B-
Anders Lee, LW: 40 games, 15 G, 15 A Grade: B+
Robin Lehner, G: 21 games, 19-11-6 record, .927 SV%, 2.18 GAA Grade: A
Matt Martin, LW: 29 games, 5 G, 3 A Grade: B-
Scott Mayfield, D: 38 games, 3 G, 12 A, +13 rating Grade: B
Brock Nelson, C: 40 games, 13 G, 13 A Grade: B-
Adam Pelech, D: 37 games, 3 G, 5 A, +8 rating Grade: C+
Ryan Pulock, D: 40 games, 3 G, 15 A, +2 rating Grade: B
Team Offense: 40 games, 121 goals scored (20th in NHL), 3.025 goals per game Grade: C+
Team Defense: 40 games, 107 goals allowed (1st in NHL) Grade: A-
Goaltending: 40 games, 23-13-4 record, .922 SV%, 2.41 GAA Grade: A