The Islanders will reach the midway point of their ultra-compelling season when they face the Hurricanes on Tuesday night at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum.
The victory jumped the Islanders into the Eastern Conference’s first wild-card spot, only four points behind the Metropolitan Division-leading Capitals (and with a game in hand).
A win on Tuesday would give the Islanders (23-13-4) their first seven-game winning streak since they ended 2013-14 with three victories and started the next season with four. They have not won seven straight in a single season since a nine-game streak from Dec. 31, 1989-Jan. 19, 1990.
Some first-half highlights:
Team MVP – A month ago, goalie Thomas Greiss was the clear pick. Lately, All-Star center Mathew Barzal, who had a six-game point streak (eight goals, three assists) snapped on Saturday, has been the team’s best skater.
But there’s no doubt that goalie Robin Lehner is the pick. His 29-save performance on Saturday was his seventh straight win, and he has allowed only 13 goals in his last 10 appearances. Entering Sunday, he was leading the NHL with a 2.18 goals-against average and was second with a .927 save percentage. Quite a bargain on a one-year, $1.5-million deal.
Most improved – It could be the whole team, given the dire preseason predictions for life after John Tavares. But defenseman Scott Mayfield perhaps has taken the biggest individual jump in terms of overall play, becoming one of coach Barry Trotz’s most trusted defenders and contributing three goals and 12 assists, both career highs.
Identity award – Trotz has relied upon the reunited fourth line of Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck to set the tone for a detail-oriented, hard-working team identity. Cizikas already has a career-high 10 goals and Martin had a game-changing goal on Saturday.
Fountain of youth award – Fully healthy defenseman Johnny Boychuk, 34, is Trotz’s most trusted end-of-game performer.
Need more from – Top-line right wing Jordan Eberle, a 20-goal scorer the previous five seasons who has only 18 points.
What to watch for – Eberle, Anders Lee and Brock Nelson, who comprise the top line, are all on expiring contracts. The trade deadline is Feb. 25. Also, the continued development in the second half of defenseman Devon Toews, 24, and forwards Josh Ho-Sang and Michael Dal Colle, both 22.
Possible postseason honors – Lehner, sober after battling alcohol and pill addiction as well as mental health issues, could be in line for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for perseverance. Trotz should be a Jack Adams candidate as the league’s top coach, taking a team that allowed 293 goals last season (the most in the NHL since 2007) to a league-low 107 through 40 games. President and general manager Lou Lamoriello could be an executive of the year candidate for his roster- and dressing room-fortifying signings of Lehner, Leo Komarov and Valtteri Filppula and his re-acquisition of Martin, not to mention hiring Trotz.