The New York Islanders kick off the second half of the season surprisingly in a playoff position, and so we had another writer roundtable to find out what everyone thinks is the key to a successful stretch run.
After a stellar first half from the New York Islanders, the boys in blue and orange come back from the break rested and ready, but as they prepare for the stretch run we all know they need to be as good or better than the first half. And that’s no easy feat.
The Isles by all accounts played as close to perfect as this roster can, and yet still sit only five points ahead of the eighth seed Penguins. In a league where teams get hot in the stretch run, it’s important that what got a team to where they are is not only maintained but improved.
We see your opinions in the comments and we know that not every topic has one belief, so we held another Eyes on Isles writer roundtable and got yet another set of differing opinions.
Who do you agree with? Whose opinion is way off? We have no doubt you’ll let us know.
What do you think is the one key (or most important thing) to keep up this pace through the second half of the season?
Key to Stretch Run Success: Depth Scoring
I think the key to success in the second half is depth scoring. To continue to get results similar to the first half, the third and fourth line have to score as much as they have in the first half.
Filppula is putting up great numbers, and Cizikas is on pace to have his best offensive year in his professional career. Barzal cannot be relied on to score every night or make a great play to set-up a goal to Beau or Bailey.
It wouldn’t hurt for them to stay healthy, and have Hickey return to further solidify the defensive corps.
Key to Stretch Run Success: Defensive Discipline
For me, the New York Islanders can keep up this pace if they continue their defensive discipline. By that, I mean limiting shots and passes into the slot. Going into the break they were in the top five for both categories in the NHL.
It’s easier said than done. Which is why they’ll need discipline to keep it up. They can’t allow their defensive prowess in the first half to get to their heads and slip up in half number two.
If they can keep up that defensive discipline and continue to be miserly in the slot by limiting the opposition’s chances they’ll be just as successful in half number two.
Key to Stretch Run Success: Staying Healthy
The Isles are a team built on defensive accountability and a having different player or line stepping up each game, and it has worked. But one key injury could spell trouble.
Last year de Haan went down in December, Cizikas missed a good chunk of January and Boychuk missed all of January. The Isles led the NHL in shots faced during January 2018 and were second worst in the league for the rest of the year. It was the beginning of the end.
This team is more disciplined and cohesive certainly, but an injury to a player or two who has led the way (I won’t mention names for fear of a jinx, but you know who they are) would be a blow that the team likely wouldn’t recover from.
The Isles simply don’t have the depth in the organization to fill any major holes.
Key to Stretch Run Success: Goaltending
The Islanders are first in the Metropolitan Division. To me, there’s no secret why. They have given up the least amount of goals through the first half of the season. That is all defensive discipline that Barry Trotz has instilled and goaltending.
Robin Lehner leads the league in GAA with 2.02 and in save percentage with .931. Greiss has been a good understudy with a 2.50 GAA and .920 save percentage. If the Islanders continue to play well in their own zone and have the goalies keep the puck out, they will cruise to the postseason.
Key to Stretch Run Success: Attitude
The New York Islanders roll into the second half in first place. If you say you saw this coming, stop lying to yourself and others. All 22 players have bought into Barry Trotz’s system and things are clicking on all cylinders.
I believe the most important thing to keeping up this pace in the second half is that the team needs to play with that monkey on their back.
They need to have that mentality where everyone doubts them and thinks they can’t succeed. The Isles have to play like this 60 minutes a game, and just play game by game. No looking past anyone on the schedule, and like I said they need to play a complete game and keep using their sticks and playing help defense.
If they play with this mentality, look out NHL.
There is no doubt that we’re all excited for the back half of the season to start, and while we have identified the key to success, we all expect nothing but continued success where the Isles stay the course and continue to shock the league.