For Islanders fans who weren’t around for the glory years of the Cup era-winning teams, optimism is a tricky thing. Getting your hopes up just for them to come crashing down is something the younger generation is all too used to.
There was optimism when John Tavares was drafted, it returned again in 2014-2015 when they looked like a team that could do some damage in the playoffs, and then again in 2016 when they finally won a round after 23 years.
Once Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz came in 2018, that optimistic word kept being thrown around again. It was hard to get those hopes back up, especially after John Tavares dipped out in free agency but fans were greeted with a welcomed surprise in 2018-2019.
The team put together their best regular season since the 1984 season with 103 points and found themselves in the second round of the playoffs. Last year, there was a 17 game point streak and a trip to the Eastern Conference Final.
Now, for the most part over the last three seasons, I would say I’ve been fairly positive about this team. I mean I picked them to go to the Eastern Conference Final in my bracket last year, I love what Barry Trotz has done, I’ve defended the move for JG Pageau, trading Devon Toews, and extending Anders Lee, etc.
Sure, I still like to complain about ice time, veterans like Leo Komarov getting an ungodly amount of slack, and stuff like that but for the most part I am very much trust Lou and Barry and that this team is #good, even during the early season struggles in 2021.
But here’s the thing, as I tweeted out last night I’m at a dangerous level of optimism with this team right now.
I’m a superstitious man so I don’t want to come out and just say it, in fears of a jinx, but my expectations are as high as they could possibly be. Like, further than they went last year high.
The Islanders are 15th in the league in goals for, with five players at 9 goals or more on the season. For reference, as good as they’ve been under Barry Trotz they’ve never been higher than 21st in this category.
They’re also fifth in the league in goals allowed. We know Barry Trotz doesn’t like to give up scoring to his opponents but when you see what they are doing defensively this year it’s been taken to another level almost.
Semyon Varlamov is playing at a Vezina pace, with a .929 save percentage and a 2.03 goals against average. Even with Ilya Sorokin’s adjustment curve he still has a .911 sv% and a 2.14 GAA which combined puts the Isles at a .924 sv% and a 2.06 GAA.
The special teams, something the Isles tend to struggle in during years gone by have also been excellent. They’re 14th in the league with a 23.5% power play and ninth with an 82.3% PK.
I’ve felt good about the Islanders during the Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz era but I don’t think I’ve ever felt this good about them. I’m nervous about it, it’s uncharted waters for most of us and I don’t know how to deal with the confidence.
But I think I’m ready to embrace it. I don’t want to have the “yeah, but” in the back of my head with this team anymore. Forget the “they need a goal scorer”, forget the “well, what about the tight division”, and forget the “well, they just beat up on bad teams”.
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No, this team feels different and I’m diving in headfirst. Will I get hurt? Possibly, but I think I’m willing to take that risk. Are you?