November has been a historically bad month for the New York Islanders.
This year, they have a record of 10-6-3 up until Nov. 19.
Ryan Strome was sent down to the Isles’ minor league affiliate Bridgeport Sound Tigers on Nov. 6. This was a shocking move by General Manager Garth Snow. Strome was one of many young players on the team who needed time to grow. After having success last season and showing improvement, he just did not have the momentum in his first few games to start this year’s campaign. With only one goal and four assists, Strome had not matched or exceeded the pace he set last season, when he finished with 50 points on 17 goals and 33 assists.
The message to Strome from the management was “regain your confidence.” “Stromie,” as the guys in the locker room call him, will come back stronger than ever and produce at the level he knows how when he gets called back up. It is unsure as to when that will be. So far, in three games with Bridgeport, he has only one assist. The demotion could motivate Strome to make him a lock on the Isles for good or hurt his confidence in the long-run. Isles fans have to hope for the former.
However, something that is notable are the two-out-of-three west coast wins on the road. If the Isles want to become a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, they need to beat tough opponents like they did. Defeating the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks is no walk in the park. The Islanders even put up a fight against the Los Angeles Kings. There have just been games where they missed chances. This happened during the Nov. 8 game against the Boston Bruins in which they dropped another one 2-1.
Notable highlights include Frans Nielsen, who scored twice during the Nov. 13 game against the Ducks. He went on to score another goal against the Arizona Coyotes three days later. “Fransy” is a player who will always put goals in the back of the net at a consistent rate. He is now one goal behind Isles’ Captain John Tavares who has nine, for the team lead in goals. Another player who is growing is Brock Nelson, who scored a goal in three consecutive games against the Kings, Ducks and Coyotes. Nelson already has 12 points through 19 games played.
The Isles returned home and defeated the Coyotes 5-2 on Nov. 16. That game featured dominance the entire way, with the Isles up 4-0 with a little over four minutes left in the third period. It has been known for the Isles to be ahead in the third period and not play a full 60 minutes, handing the game to the opponent.
The fourth-line is still dominating and hard-hitting — just as where they left off at the end of the 2014-15 season. Matt Martin (96) and Cal Clutterbuck (84) are the top and fourth-best hits leaders in the NHL. At the end of last season, Martin finished first with 382 and Clutterbuck right behind with 343. The line of Martin, Clutterbuck and Casey Cizikas is yet again the best fourth-line in hockey.
On the defensive end, Johnny Boychuk has really shined, showing his veteran presence and experience. He has even contributed offensively, tallying 10 points (three goals, seven assists) through 19 games played. Boychuk’s career-high is nine goals. Both Boychuk and fellow defenseman Calvin de Haan are among the top league leaders in blocked shots.
Between the pipes, Thomas Greiss has been nothing short of dominant in goal. Head Coach Jack Capuano seems to be platooning both Greiss and Jaroslav Halak in the goalie role. Halak has appeared in 10 games, while Greiss has appeared in two less. Despite losing his last three games, Halak has a goals-against average (GAA) of 1.91. Having the confidence to play either goalie and knowing they will perform well is a huge confidence-booster for the team.
One thing that really needs work is the powerplay unit. Not converting on the powerplay is what costs teams games. This is especially true for a 5-on-3 powerplay. On the flip-side, the team needs to stop taking consistent penalties and stay out of the box.
Next for the Isles will be a home-and-home series against a top Eastern Conference competitor, the Montreal Canadiens. The Canadiens have taken a hold of a tie for first place in the conference with a record of 14-3-2. In their last matchup on Nov. 5, the Isles were outplayed in a 4-1 loss. These pair of games will determine if the Isles can hang with the best of them.
No teams are for injuries to other players and the Canadiens could be hurt by the loss of their All-Star goalie Carey Price. Price is currently injured and there is no timetable for his return. His backup, Mike Condon has performed very well. He has a 7-1 record with a 2.14 GAA. The Canadiens will also be playing the night before against the Coyotes arriving at the Barclays Center. The Isles will have to play the way they did against the Coyotes to pick up some points against the best in the Eastern Conference.