The Islanders hit the midpoint of their season with Friday's 3-2 overtime win over the Devils. Here are the "Halfsies," our version of the team's midseason awards.
MOST VALUABLE ISLANDER: JAROSLAV HALAK(Credit: Getty Images / Jana Chytilova)
With all due consideration to the team's true star, John Tavares, the Islanders wouldn't be anywhere near the top of the Metro Division without Jaroslav Halak's steady play. It took some time for the 28-year-old to get settled in, but once he did the Isles and their fans have gotten to see what life is like with a healthy No. 1 goaltender -- they haven't had one since Rick DiPietro's heyday almost a decade ago. Halak has 22 wins already, just 10 off the franchise record.
MOST IMPROVED ISLANDER: RYAN STROME(Credit: Jim McIsaac)
The main reason that Ryan Strome didn't stick with the Isles last season -- he split his first pro season fairly evenly between the Isles and Bridgeport -- was his willingness to dig around in the corners and the slot just wasn't there. Jack Capuano harps on that attribute an awful lot and seeing Strome's play this season is the reason why. The 21-year-old has played strong along the walls and behind the net, a big reason why playing the wing has been an easy transition for the natural center. His 22 even-strength points are tied for the team lead and no matter whether he's played alongside Brock Nelson or Frans Nielsen as his center, Strome has been a force in the offensive zone.
UNSUNG ISLANDER: NICK LEDDY(Credit: Jim McIsaac)
Perhaps it had to do with spending his first three NHL seasons in the shadow of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, but plenty of people in and around the Isles have expressed pleasant surprise at the things Nick Leddy has done so far. When Johnny Boychuk and Travis Hamonic were out in December, Leddy increased his minutes and had to play a more physical role, as well as chip in on the power play. He's got to work on that physical side still, but his skating and ability to maneuver in traffic stand out among this defense corps. The fact that he's done all this at age 23 makes Garth Snow's deal to get Leddy from the Hawks -- it was essentially a one-for-one swap with prospect Ville Pokka -- perhaps is even better than the one to get Boychuk from the Bruins.
BIGGEST WIN: OCT. 14, 2014 VS. RANGERS(Credit: Jim McIsaac)
The Isles have been able to win some wild ones at MSG over the past decade (15-13-2 in their past 30 visits), but the only meeting between the rivals this season featured 40 saves from Halak, six goals on Henrik Lundqvist and cemented, in the third game of the season, the feeling around the team that it could be a special season.
BEST TAVARES MOMENT: JAN. 9, 2015 VS. DEVILS(Credit: Getty Images / Bruce Bennett)
It was a superb solo effort to pull out a much-needed win followed by a playful "Yes! Yes! Yes!'' chant of his own to celebrate the goal. That chant has echoed through the Coliseum after every Islanders goal and win this season and John Tavares, who usually looks dead serious at all times, showed he could let his guard down and that he and the team have a connection to Islanders fans in what's been a terrific, but bittersweet season for many of them.
MOST DISAPPOINTING ISLANDER: CHAD JOHNSON(Credit: Getty Images / Rob Carr)
Signed to a two-year deal on July 1, Chad Johnson was going to solve the backup goalie issues. Only one part of that solution has happened. Johnson played well at the start of the season -- good timing, since Halak started slowly -- but Johnson has not found his rhythm as a once-every-three-weeks backup. Halak has never played more than 57 games; unless Johnson can be better, Halak will definitely surpass that number this season, which is a risky proposition heading into the playoffs.