When you sit back and try to pinpoint the reason for the Islanders first half success, many factors stand out.
The Islanders have allowed 24 fewer goals at this point in the season compared to last (91 to 115). The offseason acquisitions of Jaroslav Halak, Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk can be directly attributed to that change.
But on the other side of the puck, the Islanders have also greatly improved, scoring 19 more goals through 33 games this year than they did at the same point last season. Free agent package Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolay Kulemin have chipped in offensively and scoring from the blueline has increased, helping turn the tide for the Islanders offensively.
Still, if you want to single out one reason for the Islanders increased goal scoring, it would be the emergence of the team's young forwards, Brock Nelson, Ryan Strome, and Anders Lee.
The kids showed a glimpse of what they could do offensively in the second half of last season. In a combined 131 games in 2013-14, the trio scored 30 goals, helping the Islanders to a 12-7-3 record after the Olympic break with John Tavares out of the lineup.
This season, the three have have stepped up their offensive game, scoring 27 goals in a combined 93 games.
The 27th goal came Saturday night against the Lightning. After Captain Tavares tied the game with a goal, it was the kids' turn. And it only took them 12 seconds to provide the secondary scoring that they have contributed all season. Lee found the back of the net, a huge goal that put the Islanders in the lead to stay.
At this point last season, the Islanders had only gotten three goals from the trio -- not that it was their fault. Strome and Lee were tearing it up in Bridgeport at the time, while Nelson had found himself in and out of the lineup during the first third of his rookie year. The 24-goal addition this year from the three is the greatest differential from any of the Islanders' four forward lines.
(Through 33 games)
(Through 33 games)
Last season at this point, the first line (Tavares, Okposo, Matt Moulson, and Thomas Vanek) had combined for 35 goals, 44% of the Islanders' goal scoring. If you add Frans Nielsen to the mix, four forward spots combined for 57% of the Islanders scoring through 33 games in 2013-14.
This season, the trio of Nelson, Strome, and Lee have scored 27 goals, 28% of the team's scoring. The first line of Tavares, Okposo, and Hodgepodge LW have lit the lamp 24 times.
The creation of a second scoring line has given the Islanders an opportunity to ice a sustained offensive attack, while not needing to rely on the first line and Tavares to get them on the scoreboard.
The line's goal production can be directly correlated to their ability to get shots on net at even strength. Lee leads the team in Shots/60 at 10.54, continuing a torrid pace he set during his callup last season. Strome is second on the team, nearly a shot behind at 9.64. Nelson is sixth on the team at 7.76.
The forwards' ability to set each other up have also led their offensive output. Strome is leading the team in 5v5 Assists/60 with an impressive 2.20. That places Strome third in the NHL in the category, behind only Tampa's Tyler Johnson and the Flyers' Jakub Voracek. The second closest Islander is Strome's linemate Nelson, at 1.46.
Strome also leads the Islanders in even strength first assists. His 10 first assists ties him for second in the NHL.
Lee is still a rookie, even though it seems like he's been around for a while now. Strome, the youngest player on the Islanders roster at 21 years of age, is in his first full NHL season. Nelson, although younger than Lee, is the most experienced of the group with 105 NHL games under his belt.
But despite little experience, the trio are making a big impact for the New York Islanders. And that has everybody in Islanders Country -- fans, players, and management alike -- excited for what the forwards may bring in the future as they continue to mature.