The Islanders just keep on winning.
Defeating rival Pittsburgh Penguins in both games of a home-and-home series from Nov. 21 to Nov. 22 was huge. Winning both games of a home-and-home series, especially against the Penguins, is something that probably would not have happened in season’s past. The Isles home half of the series sounded exactly like Game 6 of the first round of the 2012-13 playoffs against the Penguins I was in attendance for. It was deja vu all over again. If the Coliseum crowd can be sold out and be as exuberant as they have been, I know something great is happening this season.
The Islanders are an entirely different team this season. They are for real. The whole league knows it. They are finding ways to win nearly every game. Most importantly, they are not giving in.
The crowd at the Nassau Coliseum is the equivalent of an electric playoff atmosphere. I was in attendance at the Wednesday, Nov. 26 overtime win against the Washington Capitals. I finally got to see the team in-person for the first time all season. I have not seen or heard anything as loud at a game since I was in attendance for the last playoff game the Isles played in.
The “kid” line really stepped up. Anders Lee scored a goal and even participated in his first NHL fight. Ryan Strome tallied two assists, including setting-up Captain John Tavares’ game-winner in overtime. Lee tallied another goal the following day. Nelson has 22 points and Strome has 18. Last season, Nelson tallied 26 points and Strome has already tied his personal-record of 18. We are only 25 games into an 82 game season.
To be honest, every line contributed in their own way. From first-line to fourth-line, there was no lack of hustle throughout the duration of the game. This is something else that has changed this season compared to season’s past. If the team was down or momentum shifted in the opponent’s favor, they would just give up.
Defensemen are still contributing as well. Travis Hamonic netted a power play goal during the Capitals game at the Coliseum.
The only real flaw I noticed was the inability to keep Capitals Captain Alexander Ovechkin off the scoreboard. It would have been heartbreaking to see the Isles lose the game in overtime. I was very impressed with the performance I got to see. After the game was over and I was walking out of the Coliseum, cheers of “Let’s Go Islanders!” and “First Place!” rang out from fans in unison. At that moment, the Isles were tied for first with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Metropolitan Division. I have not heard that ever in my life before.
Despite snapping their five-game winning streak with a loss in the road game of a home-and-home series against the Washington Capitals, the Isles were back at it as they defeated the New Jersey Devils 3-1 on Saturday, Nov. 29.
The team sure showed their tenacity and improvement on the penalty kill. After playing six games in nine days, the team displayed their exhaustion. However, with a 2-1 lead in the third period, they could have just throw in the towel. With less than a minute remaining in the game, the Isles were on the short-end of a 5-3 penalty kill. All three guys threw their bodies in front of pucks the Devils were firing at the net. The Devils outshot the Isles 16-1 in the third period. The Isles now have a record of 8-0 when leading going into the third period.
Scoring and contribution are coming from all angles. Isles defensemen have combined for a total of 13 goals so far this season. Last season, Isles defenseman scored 23 total goals combined. Thomas Hickey scored the game-winner in overtime in their most recent game on Tuesday, Dec. 2 against the Ottawa Senators. The goal was Hickey’s second-career overtime winner. I remember his first against the Montreal Canadiens. Hickey tallied two points on the night. Also, the Isles have a record of 8-0 in overtime/shootouts.
Unfortunately, Johnny Boychuk and Lubomir Visnovsky were placed on the injured reserve list as of Wednesday, Dec. 3. Brian Strait and Matt Donovan have done a decent job filling in for the injured vets. Griffin Reinhart has been recalled from the Isles minor league affiliate Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Hopefully he will not bring down the already hot defensive core as a result of his lack of experience on the big club. He has only played three games this season making his NHL debut during the season opener.
Forward Michael Grabner who has not seen action in a game all season has been activated from the injured reserve list. Grabner will bring his lightning-fast speed to the lineup. He will be a strong force on the penalty kill as well.
Goaltender Jaroslav Halak is a brick wall in net. He is currently on a 10-game winning streak, including three shutouts dating back
to Wednesday, Nov. 5. Halak has surpassed his personal record winning streak from 2012, where he took the St. Louis Blues to the playoffs. He has also tied legendary Billy Smith’s 1982 franchise record 10-straight wins after the team’s most recent win.
I mentioned the curse of November for the Isles last season in my last column. The Isles closed out their best November since 1983. This is the best start to a season in franchise history.
The final game of eleven-straight games against Eastern Conference opponents will be played on Thursday, Dec. 4 against the Ottawa Senators. This is the fifth (and final) time this season that the Isles will play the same opponent in consecutive games.
After that, the Isles play four games against the Western Conference beginning with a home game against the St. Louis Blues on Saturday, Dec. 6 at 1 p.m.