You remember the conversations during the off-season, right? Actually, it's been the same discussion each of the last several summers. Imagine if the New York Islanders had an average offensive team and didn't have to win each game 3-2 or 2-1. Imagine if they had a power play that could be a difference-maker, a legitimate threat to score each and every night.
Well, you don't have to imagine anymore.
After their 5-4 win in Carolina versus the Hurricanes on Saturday night, the Islanders are averaging 3.12 goals per game, that's 15th in the NHL and trending upwards. Last year, they finished 22nd at 2.95. Brock Nelson (16 goals) could hit the 40-goal mark, the full-season version of Bo Horvat has been the as-advertised with 14 goals, and Mathew Barzal is on pace for his first 20-goal season. After a sluggish start, Anders Lee has scored in nine of his last 18 games, including his 250th last night. Plus, Simon Holmstrom has provided depth, scoring 10 goals, with half of them coming short-handed.
The increased goal production has coincided with a remarkable turnaround with the man advantage. As well-documented, the Isles scored the fewest power-play goals in the league last season. While some wondered whether Lane Lambert would retain his job, there was near certainty that GM Lou Lamoriello would replace assistant coach John MacLean, who ran the power play last season. Evidently, Lamoriello felt the problems from last season could be corrected, and he has been proven correct. Through 33 games, that unit is sixth in the league (24.7%) ahead of teams such as the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks.
The team has collected a point in 17 of their last 19 games and, not so coincidentally, has scored three goals or more in 17 of their last 19. The only games they haven't scored three goals in during this stretch were a 1-0 shootout loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Nov. 25 and the 3-2 overtime loss to the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night in DC.
There's a totally different feel watching the Isles this season. You simultaneously feel they are never out of a game because of their scoring, yet have less confidence in their ability to maintain a lead. If they are able to get their defense healthy, this team could maintain their current status, which is the third highest point total in the Eastern Conference.