Back before the season started, I wrote a post talking about how no one really knew what the expect from the Islanders, because the team last year had no clear defensive strategy, and we wouldn’t be able to judge it until Coach Trotz started putting it into play. However I speculated that they would be better defensively, even as they struggled to score and that probably left them competitive, but not a playoff team.
35 games into the season, they are actually better defensively than I thought they’d be, sitting at 98 goals against.
And they’ve only scored 101 goals.
And, they sit in 9th place in the East.
The focus on defensive strategy was going to take away some of the free-wheeling offense so we are seeing the result of that on the offense, not to mention the lack of a certain former captain who shall not be named. The team is playing a solid game, but is as streaky as it’s ever been when it comes to scoring goals. Mathew Barzal is off his point per game pace of his rookie year, but again, between being asked to do more on defense, and now being the clear number one match up, that’s not unexpected. Andrew Ladd go hurt, also not unexpected, and as you look down the roster, there aren’t too many numbers that jump out at you as massive surprises. (Valteri Fillipula having 18 points in 35 games is one of the biggest surprises, in a positive way.)
Goaltending has been mostly solid, behind a much improved defense, despite the fact that they didn’t really add any defenders to last year’s mix.
To borrow a phrase, they who are they are. They lack a second point-per-game producer on offense to provide that extra goal and/or possession when they need it. They lack a true number one defender, and the special teams have been less than stellar.
In a nutshell, the things that successful teams have to push them into winning 3-2 instead of losing 3-2 in OT. The things that push a third game in four days, tired, team to overtime instead of a regulation loss. Those extra points here are there that make up the difference between being just out of the playoffs, or in the playoffs.
Can adding Ho-Sang and Toews to the talent mix push the Isles into those extra points? I have my doubts, but this sure beats being way out of it come January and February. I like what I’m seeing, while also acknowledging the team isn’t quite where I’d want it to be, right now.
Of course, that can all change in a heartbeat.