Even top teams lose once in a while. The Isles have bounced back after hitting a roadblock which included a three-game losing streak against the Bruins, Red Wings and Panthers from Thursday, Jan. 29 to Tuesday, Feb. 3.
I have to give a stick tap to Isles forward Ryan Strome for picking up his play with the absence of Kyle Okposo. As of Thursday, Feb. 19, he is third on the team in points with 37, more than doubling last year’s total of 18. There is still half a season left to play. Strome is growing to become an elite player for the Isles for years to come. I am enjoying watching him develop and find ways to contribute every game. He has been a key piece of the power play as well.
Anders Lee is another young gun who is continuing to fire on all cylinders. Lee is second on the team in goals with 18 behind Captain John Tavares. He is proving to be a legitimate contender in the rookie goal scoring race, only two goals behind for the first place label. Just like Tavares, Lee is not only becoming a goal-scorer, but a playmaker as well. He tallied four assists against the Columbus Blue Jackets in a 6-3 win on Saturday, Feb. 14.
Another stick tap to Frans Nielsen, who played in his 500th NHL game against the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday, Feb. 8. “Fransy” has been a crucial part of the Isles success and a leader. He is the longest-tenured Islander. Nielsen is an excellent two-way player and shootout wizard as well.
Forwards Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolay Kulemin are resembling Michael Grabner. They have the speed and can help the team kill penalties. Unfortunately, Grabner keeps moving back-
and-forth to the injured reserve list. His latest placement was on Saturday, Feb. 7. I can only hope this year has just been one of bad luck for Grabner and that he can return healthy and play to his full potential and speed, something the Isles can always use.
In order to become a Stanley Cup contender, they are going to have to improve on the penalty kill. Being second-to-last in the league is a problem. Either that, or continue to score goals to bail out the penalty kill. Having the third-highest
goals for average in the NHL is helpful.
The fourth-line continues to show why they are the toughest in hockey. Matt Martin broke his nose in a fight against Flyers’ Ryan White on Thursday, Feb. 5. You would think that after that blow, he would have been out the rest of the game. Not Matt Martin—he remained in the game. Martin is arguably the toughest player in the league. Cal Clutterbuck has even had a goal-scoring touch lately, including a goal in the second period and game-winning shootout goal against the Flyers in the same game. Fourth-liner Casey Cizikas was placed on the injured reserve list on Monday, Feb. 16. Colin McDonald has done a decent job filling in on the line, but I am looking forward for Cizikas’ return.
The four-game homestand last week was a huge motivational boost for the team. Despite the road block two weeks ago, they won three out of four games on the homestand. This includes their first loss of the season against Metropolitan Division rivals New York Rangers.
With the most compact and toughest schedule in the month of February, the Islanders are playing seven games in 11 days and 15 games in 26 days. Stamina and focus will be an important factor this home stretch of the season.
If anyone was weary of how legitimate this team is, they should not be now. Yes, having a game every other night for the entire month of February will bring obstacles and adversity. I am also crossing my fingers that with such a tight stretch, everyone stays healthy. If every Islander continues to contribute on any given night, they are going to be one of the league’s top forces come playoff time.