For the Islanders before the Trade Deadline: A very strange February

Aside from the number of bodies used -- 29, if you're counting -- February has been a most unusual month for the Islanders. There's the 8-4-1 record of course: (.654 points pct. or, for the particular: 5 regW, 1 OTW, 2 SOW, 4 regL, 1 OTL). There was the nine-game stretch where they scored at least three goals in every game, helping to feed a crazy 3.77 goals per game in 13 February games. There's the oddity that two of their four regulation losses were to the Maple Leafs of all teams, while two of their better regulation wins were against the Penguins and the Kings.

There's that two Islanders have scored 10 goals this month (Matt Moulson and Michael Grabner, playing separate lines -- which I think is important). There's the fact that despite those two hot shooters their leading scorer for the month, and the season, is still John Tavares (5-11-16 in February). And despite 20 goals between Moulson and Grabner, the Isles have had 16 different goal scorers this month, and 22 of their 24 skaters have registered points.

And then there's the fact they've used five goalies this month -- even by Islanders standards that's a lot -- and the best performer of the five is a former Rangers first rounder they just acquired for a 6th-round pick. Why, the highest-paid of the lot got into a fight and left with Islanders Face and more knee swelling. Strange month.

Sometimes shot averages can tell us things about a team over a long span -- and 13 games doesn't qualify as "long" in that department, but still: Shots For/GP in February: 31.46. Shots Against/GP: 30.23. The Islanders' seasonlong per game average (including February) is 29.1 shots for, 32.1 shots against.

We've discussed a lot here lately about the myriad ways, and numbers, you can use to try to figure out what's going on with a team beyond their won-loss record. Certainly there is particular context for each of the above numbers (a 9-3 drubbing of the Pens sure helps goose your offense). And I don't know how you'd ever control for the injury and suspension toll that necessitated using nine defensemen and 15 forwards over this past month. I'd like to think Jack Capuano has had something to do with having them ready and competitive in most of these games, and I look forward to seeing him with the tests that remain, including a back-to-back here with the Capitals.

Do We Have a Top Six Here?

But the overriding point is this month we've seen some things that, if they are in any way sustainable, are exactly what you want to see from this team at this point. Namely: two scoring lines, plus a bit of punch from the other lines here and there.

I know they cannot sustain the level of scoring they've displayed this month. We've been witness, or victim, to spring surges before and in fact during each of the last two playoff-less seasons. We've seen young forwards like Blake Comeau and Sean Bergenheim have mini hot streaks in March that got some (including yours truly) thinking that maybe, just maybe, that kid is becoming what we want him to be. But the fact the current top two lines have taken turns scoring, at even strength -- the fact that they do not give the opposition just one easy line to focus on -- has to bode well for the long-term goal here.

I don't think it's fair to judge the current composition of this roster right now because of the injury carnage on the blueline. It just puts too much of a stress on team results, and that's sort of why I used that Eric Brewer quote in the game thread yesterday, which I'll repost here for those who missed it:

"I don't know if people really understand how much goes into a young D-man playing in the NHL, where you can't hook and hold, your foot speed is your biggest weapon and you're not used to guys barreling down on you this fast and making plays so quick," Brewer said. "You're also out there with guys who specialize in checking and taking angles away -- and you're trying to do all of this while trying to play your own game and play a heads-up game. It's fast out there. If there's a mistake, you know, the D-men look ridiculous."

Even clear talents like Andrew MacDonald and Travis Hamonic are having their peaks and valleys. So the defense is the big issue, both in health and in overall personnel. And goaltending is a question too, but at least in Montoya's games so far he's been a very stabilizing force. So if the forwards who are here are good enough to make this team competitive even in games with that blueline, well then little by little we're getting there, no?

I'd like to think so anyway. But it's been a strange February. And it's not even over yet.

*  *  *

Trade Deadline Palooza

I've seen some trade deadline posts -- man, it seems the whole NHL is making big-league swaps every day -- but for the Islanders I don't expect much different than what I posted in the Trade Deadline primer last week, although with all the "hockey" trades going on, you can't rule out something bigger and more imaginative.

We will stay on top of things this weekend if the Islanders move any of the main suspects (I still don't think I'm ready to do a Farewell Radek post). On Monday we'll have an open thread for you to share and shoot the breeze about any of the prevailing moves and rumors.

As for the rest of the league, one of the cool things about SBN is quick access to some thoughtful team-centered content at our other blogs. So check out this trade deadline aggregator (www.sbnation.com/nhl/tradedeadline) for the latest team-focused impressions of many of the trades that have gone down.

Until then, feel free to treat this post as your "Can you believe they waived Bernier too?" and/or "The Islanders still need X, Y and Z" thread.

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