DENVER — It’s been a little more of an up-and-down first 32 games to the current Islanders season than in 2014-15, when the Isles were busy working on their fourth streak of at least four wins in a row at this time last year.
But the results, like they were a season ago, are positive. Even with Tuesday’s 5-1 loss to the Panthers in Brooklyn, the Isles are just three points off last season’s torrid first-half pace.
The main difference is what’s gone on around them. The Isles held first place, by themselves or sharing it with the Penguins, for long stretches of last season’s first three months. This year, the Isles have had to claw their way up to the elite level of the Metro Division, where first the Rangers and then the Caps reeled off great starts.
“I don’t even look at the standings, to be honest with you,” Jack Capuano said last week. “I don’t even really know how many wins we have.”
That may be stretching the truth a tad, but as the Islanders headed out here to begin a quick two-game visit to the Avalanche Thursday night and the Coyotes on Saturday, there was still a strong sense of the confidence that was familiar to anyone who spent time around the team last season.
“There’s no reason to freak out,” Travis Hamonic said after Tuesday’s loss, the Isles’ first in regulation since Nov. 22 (8-1-2). “This is as good of a roll as we’ve been on in a long time.”
There’s arguably more to this season’s strong first half than there was last season, despite fewer points and fewer dominating performances. The Islanders in 2014-15 allowed three or more goals in 17 of their first 32 games, but their prolific offense led by John Tavares helped them to a 22-10-0 record.
This season at 18-9-5 heading into Thursday’s game with Colorado, the Islanders are conforming more to the defense-and-goaltending style that succeeds in today’s NHL. They’ve given up three or more goals in 13 of 32 games and have allowed only 2.34 goals a game, tied for seventh in the league.
Much of that is due to the tandem work of Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss. Halak allowed three Panthers goals on their first eight shots on Tuesday but finished the game.
“He’s been there for us all year,” Capuano said.
So it’s back on the road against the Western Conference. The Isles’ 10-2-1 record against the West is tops among Eastern Conference teams, so there’s a reason to still feel confident despite Tuesday’s defeat.