The New York Islanders have been streaking — with points. They have recorded at least one point in eight-straight games since Nov. 25 and into December and have not lost a game in regulation during that time.
This has been huge for the team that has been known for playing poorly in the month of November. It seems they have learned from years past to pick up the pace.
Ever since the home-and-home losses against the Montreal Canadiens in November, the Islanders have turned on the jets. They have performed very well on national television in recent weeks, defeating both the Philadelphia Flyers and rival New York Rangers.
Goaltending has been a key for the Isles’ success in recent weeks. Despite the 3-2 shootout loss against the Florida Panthers the day after Thanksgiving, which featured an NHL shootout record, as the first nine shooters scored in the skills competition portion, Jaroslav Halak has proved himself to be a legitimate force guarding the net. By splitting time with Thomas Greiss, who has been extremely clutch between the pipes, Halak has been able to come in fresh when called upon. As a team, the Isles are ranked sixth in goals-against average (GAA) (2.3 goals per game), showing that they can keep the puck out of the net effectively. Greiss has won his last three-games played and earned an 8-3-2 record so far this season. His 2.18 goals against average and .928 save percentage is among the top ten goaltenders in the league. The tandem of Halak and Greiss are keeping the Isles alive in games.
There are many players who have stepped it up for the Isles recently. Playing a team game and having all players contribute has been something the Isles have wanted for a long time. Forwards Brock Nelson and Mikhail Grabovski have put up points as of late. Nelson already has 16 points to his name. Grabovski only played in 51 games last season for the Isles. However, he has tallied 13 points this season and needs six more to tie last year’s season-high.
The team is not just Captain John Tavares and Kyle Okposo. Tavares, who is usually a lock for a top-10 spot, gracing the league in points, is not in the race at the moment. “JT” has only one point in his last four games. Even the greatest of players fall into scoring droughts occasionally. Great teams need all lines to compete at their best in order for them to be successful. The fourth-line of Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck have made themselves known throughout the league and hockey fans are already aware of Tavares and Okposo. Now it is time for the second and third lines to contribute consistently. Speaking of which, what is there to say about forward Frans Nielsen. He has been the most consistent Islander this season, scoring two goals in the team’s most recent game against the Flyers.
Another highlight in the last few weeks is that Ryan Strome has returned from his minor league stint with the Islanders affiliate Bridgeport Sound Tigers ready to prove himself. Despite only recording four points in eight games in Connecticut, Islanders General Manager Garth Snow decided to bring the 22-year-old back up. Strome proved to the organization that his three-week demotion can only motivate him even more. He lit the lamp with an empty-net goal in his first game back, which was against the Colorado Avalanche and dished out an assist. He picked up a point in the next game against the Rangers. The Mississauga native will be a driving force that can pick up the second or third line.
While one player returned to Brooklyn, another is most likely departing in the next few weeks. This would be defenseman Travis Hamonic, who has been a staple defending the Islanders blue line for the last five seasons. Back in November, one of the Isles ice-time leaders requested a trade to western Canada to be in a closer proximity to his family. His request had nothing to do with the team as he enjoyed his time with the blue and orange. The 25-year-old defenseman is a valuable part of the Isles’ blue line, showing stability and a “hammer-like” mentality and physical presence on the ice. The team will definitely miss him if the request does happen. Another defenseman, Thomas Hickey has returned from injury and will continue to be solid on the blue line.
Any hockey fan will have their opinion on the new three-on-three overtime format and the not-so-new shootout. The Isles have been one of the best teams in the league in the shootout. Their last four-games have been decided by either overtime or a shootout. Even though extra-time may be entertaining, teams need to do their best to secure that extra point.
Every point is crucial when it comes to making the playoffs. With the season over a quarter of the way complete, the Isles will need every point they could get in a very competitive conference.
Next up for the Isles will be three-straight games against Eastern Conference teams. They will need to continue earning points to gain ground in the conference, putting up a 6-2-2 performance in their last 10 games. Yes it is early, but this point of the season is make-or-break time. Currently in fourth place, the Isles are only four points behind the conference-leading Montreal Canadiens for the top spot in the east.