We have reached the halfway point of the NHL season.
After entering the NHL All-Star break with a 4-2 loss against the Detroit Red Wings, the New York Islanders will need to pick up the pace in order to seal a quality playoff seed. The second half of the season is always crucial in a team’s run to the playoffs and every point counts. Entering the break, the Isles stood in third place in the Metropolitan Division and seventh in the Eastern Conference.
At 25-16-6 (56 points) the Islanders were seven points behind their pace from last season, when they were 31-14-1 (63 points) at the All-Star break. For the Islanders, this means performing well as they will be playing 35 games in 68 days, 16 against divisional opponents. During this time, they will have to fit in their makeup game against the Philadelphia Flyers on April 10.
Coming off of the All-Star break, the New York Islanders need to be one thing, consistent.
For me, game highlights of the first half include beating arch-rival New York Rangers twice on home ice at the Barclays Center and a 5-2 win at home against the Anaheim Ducks on Dec. 21. The worst game of the first half was the 4-0 shutout loss against the Flyers on Jan. 9.
Individually, with 30 points (20 goals, 10 assists) in 48 games, Brock Nelson deserved consideration to be on the All-Star Game roster. Without his productivity on the ice, the Islanders would not have nearly as much scoring as they have had the first half of the season. He really showed the league what he is made of when he netted his first career hat-trick against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Jan. 12.
Coming off the break, Nelson has tallied 20 goals — tying his career-high and it is only the halfway point of the season. Nelson is really developing into a solid forward.
With Captain John Tavares in a slump for a good part of the season, Frans Nielsen has also picked up his team contributing 15 goals and 16 assists for a total of 31 points. For the first time in a while, scoring is coming from all four lines and Tavares is not the lone man responsible for lighting the lamp.
It was nice to see the Captain representing his team as the lone Islanders All-Star. He even took home the “Shooting Accuracy Contest” title in the skills competition. Tavares needed just five shots and just over 12 seconds to break the four targets at the four corners of the goal, earning the Eastern Conference a point en route to a 29-12 victory. Competing against other top All-Stars in the league for a victory like that of Tavares’ is not easy. It is nice to see JT bring home an award and put the Islanders on the national map.
Another key to success in the second half is getting veteran defenseman Johnny Boychuk healthy and back on the ice. Boychuk has been out of action since Jan. 2. The 32-year-old defenseman has the third-most minutes among Islanders skaters this season and has been a crucial component of the powerplay.
Other injuries have occurred with the defensive core. Travis Hamonic missed some time in January. As a result, 21-year-old Adam Pelech was called-up to replace “Hammer.” He performed well in his absence and was opening the eyes of Islanders fans. Unfortunately, Pelech caught the injury-bug as well and is now believed to have sustained a season-ending injury.
This injury came after taking Derek Stepan’s skate blade to the face on a clip while diving to prevent him from scoring during the game against the Rangers on Jan. 14. Staying in the game after having his right cheek stitched up, Pelech was unable to play another game for the Isles. He finished his season recording two points in seven games.
On the positive side, Hamonic has returned to the blue-line and getting much-needed rest during the All-Star break only can do good to the hurting blue-liners. However, Hamonic has been on the trading block for a while after announcing his request to play closer to home with a team in western Canada. As the trade deadline approaches, Hamonic’s wishes will most likely be granted, leaving the Islanders short a valuable defensive presence.
Now the question is, will the Isles bring up 21-year-old defenseman Ryan Pulock for some more power on the blue-line? Scott Mayfield has been a replacement, but despite that, a seventh defenseman will need to be called-up regardless because of the banged-up defensive core. Pulock has been one of the Isles most promising prospects for a while now and has a wicked slapshot. Even if it is only for a couple of weeks, the young defenseman will be able to gain some experience at the NHL level, just as his fellow Bridgeport Sound Tiger teammates Pelech and Mayfield have. Pulock was the Isles first-round draft pick in 2013. He has six goals and 13 assists in 43 games for Bridgeport after scoring 17 goals in 54 games last season and deserves to get a chance at the NHL level — something the fans have been waiting to see for a long time.
In their first game back from the break, the Islanders earned a big 5-3 win against the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday, Feb. 2. This was yet another game where multiple lines, including forward Anders Lee.
Up next, the Islanders will be facing the red-hot Washington Capitals on Thursday, Feb. 4. This is a huge game, especially on the road. Any time the Isles can beat the Caps shows they can face anyone in the league. Also, any Islanders fan wants to get revenge on the team that knocked them out of the first round of the playoffs last season. Hopefully the All-Star break will bring in some fresh legs to take this team far into the playoffs.