Through the first two months of the season the Islanders are floating between 9th and 13th place in the east with a horrible minus goal differential. But something is about to change……..
Instead of rolling over and fighting through injuries, the Islanders refused to quit. The next 7 weeks will bring a different team with a new spirit. Injuries to Finley and Strait help bring the emergence of Thomas Hickey and the Re-Emergence of the DOMINANT pair of Hamonic and MacDonald. The Defense seemed to solidify when Lubomir Visnovsky committed to the team by his play and then signing in 2 year contract extension.
The defense is not the only improvement, Boyes being added to the Tavares/Moulson line created chemistry on the top line. But it was the decision to put Okposo/Nielsen/Bailey together which we have seen chemistry from them in the past. This move created a second scoring line and some much needed depth. The continuing energetic play and occasional scoring from Martin, Aucoin and Cizikas seems to energize the team. Matching with some continual and timely scoring from McDonald and Grabner gave the team not only depth but identity.
So what did the next seven weeks hold for the Islanders? From their first game in March at Home against Ottawa to their shootout win over the Jets, the Islanders have gone 16-5-3 and have jumped to 6th in the eastern conference only 2pts behind the 5th seed Toronto. During this new hot streak (and one of the NHL’s best over that span) the new found secondary and even some 3rd and 4th line scoring has amounted in 70 GF in that span.
The Defense and Offense are not the only improved aspect to the team, their work horse Nabokov has been Stellar over that time. We have seen Mr. Softy much less and more the old (San Jose) Nabokov that is standing on his head winning games along with the defense and that was evident the last 7 weeks. During that time the Islanders goalies have given up 57 goals for a +13 in goal differential. Nabokov has helped the Islanders turn into a threat and when the team once goal differential was over a -20 has turned into a +3. The goal differential stat is an overlooked stat but may be more important than most fans know. This shows us how hard this team has worked and gelled together. The team has turned every aspect of their game around and this is why they are on the brink of a playoff berth.
With this tale of two teams, if the Islanders continue on this path they will they will not only make the playoffs, but the Islanders can take the 6th and maybe the 5th see in the playoffs. This hot team can even make some noise with an upset or two. With the last 3 games upon the Islanders, this maybe where we see what kind of team they truly are!
As Islanders Fans it is a far far better thing we do no matter what happens to support this team. We do not know what brought this team together, maybe maturity, an inspirational speech by a coach or even just tired of being the door mat of the NHL. The Islanders now play with passion and confidence and for the first time in such a long time, we have hope and we should be proud.