Islanders midseason report card
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John Tavares and Matt Moulson have been clicking, especially on the power play, and Caey Cizikas' line has done its job. The middle six forwards need more consistent play, especially at even strength.
Andrew MacDonald and Travis Hamonic have improved over the past week, starting to put some bad bounces and hesitant play behind them. Mark Streit and Lubomir Visnovsky have had solid moments with the puck and Thomas Hickey and Radek Martinek have improved the depth.
Evgeni Nabokov needed to carry the Isles through the first half without a confident backup. Rick DiPietro is in Bridgeport now, though, and Kevin Poulin has to show he can win games when playing occasionally. Nabokov has done well, but needs to do more.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B+
The Isles' power play has been in the top five much of the season and scores in bunches. The penalty kill has slipped a bit since a good start, but is still a factor.
Jack Capuano takes plenty of heat from fans for not being the most eloquent guy around, but he is trying to be patient and let his young core take charge. If this team can't grow from within, there isn't much a coach can do.
MVP: John Tavares
How could it be anyone else? He's second in the NHL with 16 goals and doing so facing every team's best night in and night out. In his fourth NHL season, Tavares is an unquestioned star and the main reason the Isles are at .500; if they make a real playoff push, he will get some Hart Trophy votes this spring.
MOST IMPROVED: Casey Cizikas
He showed yesterday why, outside of the top line, this 22-year-old center is perhaps the biggest factor in the Islanders' modest improvement this season. Cizikas has anchored a true energy line with Matt Martin and Colin McDonald and chipped in with three goals and nine points; he rarely passes up a hit, has won 56 percent of his faceoffs and shows his teammates how it's done on the forecheck. A real find.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Kyle Okposo
Coming off shoulder surgery that cost him half of 2010-11, Okposo's slow start last season was explainable. His current one, with two goals in the first half of this season, is less so. He's been playing with more confidence the past month with little to show for it, but he has the faith of his coaches and Garth Snow, who has rebuffed plenty of low-ball offers for the former first-round draft pick.
TOUGHEST BREAK: Brian Strait
A guy who had Islanders fans heading to NHL.com to learn something about him when Snow plucked Strait off waivers from the Penguins a couple of days before the start of the season, Strait impressed enough with his steady, unspectacular play to earn a three-year contract extension. But a freak injury, when he caught his skate in a rut, slid into the side boards and broke his ankle Feb. 18 hurt the Islanders' defensive rotation.
KEY TO THE SECOND HALF: Evgeni Nabokov
The Isles have been riding the 37-year-old goaltender through the first half, and despite a low save percentage of .905, Nabokov has provided some stability. He needs an even stronger second half, though, if the Islanders want to make a real playoff push. The Islanders are 0-10-1 when scoring fewer than three goals this season, and that's not a recipe to win playoff-type games.