The Islanders are fully aware that they can’t get ahead of themselves, that the quarter mark of the season is just a sliver of this 82-game marathon and that early returns can evaporate into nothing in the dog days of December and January.
All of that doesn’t mean they can’t appreciate what they have for now.
As the Islanders wrapped up their 21st game of the season — a 4-3 overtime win over the Flyers on Wednesday — their record was 12-7-2. That’s a vastly improved situation from this time last year, when they were 7-10-4.
And despite all the talk of improvement, all the areas that they plan to work on, the consensus seems to be that the first quarter of the season has put them in a relatively good position to create some separation in the standings in the next 20 or so games.
With things clicking more consistently than they were in the first few games this season, coach Doug Weight said, the hope is that more wins will follow. “I think we’re putting together more shifts, more consistency, playing the way we want to play more than we were early,” he said. “We’re not getting any more results. I think we’re starting to. I think if we keep playing better and better hockey, we’re going to win more than we lose and stop doing the one [win] and one [loss] and two and one, or one, one and one.”
The Islanders are third in the Metropolitan Division, three points behind the division-leading Blue Jackets.
“I’m extremely happy with what we’ve done as a team and as a [first] line,” Anders Lee said. “I think we really connected really well and continued to grow from each game and built off the chemistry from years past. Obviously, we’re not done.”
According to Weight, areas of improvement include play in the neutral zone, consistency and puck protection.
“There’s a lot of areas [to improve],” he said. “I stay up at night thinking about them. . . I think we can do everything better. I want to play more in the offensive zone and be more comfortable . . . [and] also make sure that we’re playing well defensively. That means [taking care of the] puck but still being creative and aggressive. It’s a fine line, it’s a spontaneous game, and it’s tough, but I think we’ve gotten better at that.”
The power play, which started off the season 0-for-20, now is 16-for-74, a hair above the league average.
“I think quick movement, I think confidence,” Weight said of the difference. “I think if you don’t get anything out of the gate as an individual or in a certain line or whatever you’re doing, it can snowball against you. We had some really good opportunities and we couldn’t score on them, and I think we went back to basics as far as our breakouts, as far as our speed on our breakouts, as far as work ethic versus the PK . . . You’ve got to outwork the opponent. I think we’ve gotten back to that mindset and now we have some swagger.”
Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss have played in 11 games each, but with Greiss riding a personal four-game winning streak, Weight indicated there soon might be some separation between the two. “I still have tremendous confidence in both goaltenders, but it’s game 20. I’m definitely going to let it play out, and if someone is going to take the ball, then they’re going to take the ball,” he said. “We’re behind them, we want to support them, we trust them, but it’s big boy hockey, it’s 20 games in, and whoever takes it is going to go and run a little more than the other one, for sure.”
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