The New York Islanders are set to begin the second half of their season on Friday night against the Lightning. How can the Islanders continue their form from the first half?
The first half of the 2018-19 season was a significant success for the New York Islanders. Sitting first place in the Metro, while a pleasant surprise, is just that; a surprise. The Islanders didn’t set out to take the division in 18-19.
But they’re right there. How can they make sure they continue that pace and stay at the top of the toughest division in the NHL?
Many of the keys to success for the second half of the season were on full display in the first half. If they can carbon copy what they did so well leading up to the All-Star break, the Islanders will be just fine.
First Key: Bottom Six
Solid play from the bottom six. These two lines need to keep up the pace and intensity in the defensive zone against the other team’s top lines. Limiting time and space for other team’s top lines not only works to neutralize the opponent’s offense but also works to have the top six focus solely on offense.
Komarov, Filppula, Martin, Clutterbuck, Cizikas, Dal Colle, have a combined 82 points during the first half the season. Another 65 to 70 points from them would be fantastic for this team. What you don’t want to see is a drop off in intensity in the defensive zone and on the penalty kill.
Second Key: Goaltending
Robin Lehner and Thomas Griess need to be the two-headed goalie monster that they were in the first half. With Lehner’s 15-7-4 record and Griess’s 14-8-1 record for a combined 29-15-5 record in the first half, their play is a clear reason why the New York Islanders are in the middle of a playoff hunt.
If it were up to me, I’d let Lehner make a majority of the remaining starts see if this clinic of goaltending he’s doling out endures. His most recent game split for January is wildly impressive at 6-1-1 with a .935% save percentage and 1.73 goals against average.
Goaltending is often the difference between a great team and a championship team. This Impressive first half will feel like a distant memory if this team’s goaltending does not keep up this stellar play.
Third Key: Power-Play
The first half saw the New York Islanders power-play rank at 24th in the league with 16.7 percent power-play efficiency this needs to improve. Capitalizing on other team’s penalties help build and solidify leads in games ultimately leading to wins.
Guys like Jordan Eberle, Brock Nelson, Nick Leddy, Anders Lee, Josh Bailey all need to get going on the power play. With Nelson and Eberle you’d like to see quicker plays into the slot to get these player’s with great shots more looks. Stronger moves off the half wall from those two and Bailey will take pressure away from Barzal who has the puck most of the time during the power-play.
Strong zone entries from Leddy will also lead to chances for his ledger in addition to a guy like Lee parked in front of the goalie.
Fourth Key: Defense
Along with the play from the goalies this year, team defense has been paramount. This defense in the first half has done an excellent job limiting second and third scoring chances. Blocking shots, closing lanes, clearing the house of rebounds and traffic have all been prominent features of this team’s defensive play in the first half that needs to continue
Having a plus twenty-five goal differential is proof that the New York Islanders have bought into the defensive system the coaching staff has been pushing. Defense is about working hard hopefully the All-Star break gave the defense a chance to rest and reset primed to keep that same intensity.
Fifth Key: Dealing With Adversity
We all want this hot streak to never end but odds are it will, and the Islanders need to be prepared for that.
Stick with the style of play that got you in playoff contention in the first place. Trust the system, play for each other, own that your effort on any given shift could impact whether the game ends with a win or a loss.
I feel like it’s always a toss up on how a team responds after a break. Is it just what the doctor ordered? Or did it just derail the hot streak?
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The Islanders still have work to do to secure a playoff spot. Stick to what got you where you are now. Its clearly working.