Another season has come and gone, Isles fans! While this offseason is shaping up to be pretty interesting off of the ice, (with the team’s impending move to the Barclays Center and whispers of a Nets-esque rebrand) let’s not lose sight of the significant progress made by the team on the ice. After a five year playoff drought, the Islanders were once again playing meaningful hockey in the month of May. Spurred by a youth movement and an explosive offense, the Islanders lived up to their preseason dark-horse billing. The Islanders are seemingly on the right path and have enough youth to potentially take another big step next year and end an NHL worst 20 consecutive years without winning a playoff series (the last time the Islanders won a playoff series, John Tavares was 3 years old).
Hands down the most important accomplishment of the 2012-13 NHL season was the Islanders making the playoffs. If you take a look at the 2013 NHL Standings you’ll also notice the Islanders finished with the regular season with their highest winning percentage in over a decade. Whether or not the team would have been able to keep that pace over the course of a full season is unknown; regardless, the Islanders finally managed to find themselves in the W column more often than not for the first time in five years.
Statistically, the Islanders ranked in the top ten in major offensive categories: goals, shots, power play goals and power play percentage. Clearly, the team boasts one of the most effective offensive units in the game, firing more shots and scoring more than two-thirds of the league. Strong special teams play and the ability to stay out of the penalty box (bottom ten in PIM) allowed the Islanders to average nearly three goals per game and undoubtedly played a key role in clinching a playoff berth.
The Islanders wield a wealth of prime aged talent on their roster. Led by John Tavares, eight of the top ten point scorers on the team are under the age of 30. When you take into consideration the talent of their prospects, the Islanders most certainly seem to be getting even better. Finally, the process of rebuilding is starting to show the fruits of its long, hard, labor. Prospects such as Ryan Strome, Griffin Reinhart, and Nino Niederreiter are positioned to make an impact at the Pro level sooner rather than later.
While the Islanders were scoring goals by the boat load, they were equally as prone to allowing them. As a team they ranked in the bottom ten in goals against and save percentage. Evgeni Nabakov posted a respectable .910 save percentage but had an inflated 2.50 goals against average. Strangely enough, while the Islanders ranked in the bottom third of the league in shots against, Nabakov faced more shot attempts than all but four goalies. The Islanders were the only team to make the playoffs with a negative goal differential (allowing more goals than they scored). With no top goalie prospects in the pipeline, the Islanders have to either hope that Rick DiPietro learns how to play hockey or, most likely, work to improve their defensive play if they look to build on the success of this past season.
The Islanders shoddy defensive play also made itself apparent in the ineffectiveness of the penalty kill. As a team they killed just over eighty percent of their penalties (the Penguins were the only playoff team with a lower PK%). Barring any free agent acquisition or trades, the Islanders are going to have to rely on defensive prospects such as Reinhart and Matt Donovan in order to deflate those less than flattering defensive statistics.
Ultimately, the Islanders are in a strong position to build on their success from this previous season. Youth prospects and developing pro talent should allow the team to improve upon their play from the 2012-13 season. The development of their core players (Moulson, Tavares, Grabner, etc.) is more important than ever considering the Eastern Conference is due to get very crowded next year following the additions of Columbus and Detroit. Obviously the Islanders possess as much offensive talent as any other team in the league. What remains to be seen is the team’s ability to shore up defensively and improve goalie play.
What offseason moves do you think would turn the team into a contender in the East? Who are you most excited to see lace up the skates next year? We have a FULL season on the horizon! These next four months cannot pass quickly enough!