21 games into their NHL schedule, the New York Islanders have officially reached the second quarter of their NHL calendar, making this the perfect time for us to take a look back at what has transpired so far for the club.
It also gives me, a completely biased and unqualified observer, the chance to grade their performance. Fortunately for me, they’ve made it easy.
The New York Islanders receive an A+ for their efforts in the first 21 games of the year. I’d mark them higher, but adding more arbitrary ‘+’s would be a waste of space. Whatever it is you deem to be the highest possible grade you could give something, that’s what they deserve.
Was their performance in the first 21 games perfect? Not by a long shot. They started the year with four straight wins, but after that they hit a rough patch, losing 5 of their next seven games, with goaltending inconsistency being the main culprit. Few will admit it now, but a fan base that was giddy at the prospect of a 4-0-0 record was now sweating it out at 6-5-0, thinking that the team’s investment in netminder Jaroslav Halak was not panning out as they had hoped. Through 11 games the Isles had allowed less than three goals only once. Not a statistic that leads to optimism, because giving up goals at that rate is nearly impossible to overcome over the long term.
Then something clicked. The Isles proceeded to reel off nine wins in their next ten games, three of which were shutout performances by Halak. The recent hot streak has propelled the team to a franchise record for wins through 21 games with 15.
More impressive is who they have beaten during that ten game span; the defending Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings, the Pacific division leading Anaheim Ducks, the potent Tampa Bay Lightning and, most satisfying of all, back to back wins over the Metropolitan Division favorite Pittsburgh Penguins.
Besides Halak, the Islanders have received contributions from their other notable imports, as Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk have been as good as advertised on the back end and Nikolay Kulemin has been promoted to the top line alongside incumbent stars John Tavares and Kyle Okposo. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the season has been the emergence of forwards Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome. Nelson leads the team in goals with 10 and Strome ranks fourth on the team in points, trailing only Tavares, Okposo and Nelson. The combination of production between the new faces and the maturation of home grown players has lead to the team having scoring depth to rival any team in the league.
Islander fans simply could not have asked for a better first quarter of the NHL season, a share of first place in the Metropolitan division, and a comfortable 8 point gap between themselves and the rest of the pack, has been well deserved. However, it is only one quarter of the season. There’s a lot of games to be played and a lot of work yet to be done for this hockey team, but they have proven they are for real in the early going.