After 41 games, the Islanders are 16-18-7 with 39 points. That puts them in 13th place in the Eastern Conference, where only one point separates the 8th and 13th spot.
Where does that leave the Islanders? Improved from last year, without question, but still inconsistent.
While the Islanders has outplayed and beaten some of the team's best --Pittsburgh, Washington, and Buffalo--they have strung together two consecutive wins only once this season since a four-game winning streak back in late October-November.
Before the season, I identified three main factors for the Islanders success this season. Let's see how they measure up.
John Tavares- at the midway point, Tavares had definitely exceeded expectations. With 16 goals and 12 assists for 28 points, Tavares leads rookies in scoring, which is exactly what the Islanders need. He has not been able to match his early success recently--with only one goal in the past 10 games--but if he can break out of this slump and continue to contribute offensively, the Islanders should be extremely pleased with his progress. Still improving with skating and pace, but he's proven himself a major threat from the top of the circles down.
Staying Healthy- Last season the Islanders led the league with an astronomical amount of man-games lost--over 580--and do not seem nearly as snakebitten this season. Heading into Tuesday's game against Columbus the Islanders had only 95 games lost. The loss of shutdown defenseman Radek Martinek to a season-ending knee injury in November was certainly a debilitating blow and the significant amount of time captain Doug Weight has missed has not helped either, but the team is much better off from their hobbled state last year.
Goaltending- Probably the most improved area for the Islanders, who targeted this position during free agency by snatching up veterans Dwayne Roloson and Martin Biron. Roloson, 14-7-5 has been great for the Islanders, providing stability in net and veteran leadership. Given his performance he's emerged as the starter and no longer alternates with Martin Biron. While Biron has played relatively well, the Islanders have habitually played horrible in front of him and given him very little offensive support. And as for Rick DiPietro, well, that remains to be seen, as he has yet to play in an NHL game. He'll play tomorrow (Friday) in Providence).
Here are some other assessments:
Coaching- Given the talent, skill and experience of his group, Scott Gordon has done a tremendous job so far this season. Also seems much more at ease with a year under his belt and his own assistants behind the bench.
Forwards- Matt Moulson has been the surprise of this group, contributing 15 goals in the first 31 games, but he has tapered off recently. Kyle Okposo hasn't put up the numbers he would've liked, but he's been a solid contributor everywhere else. The lack of goal-scoring continues to be a problem for the Islanders and they need to find guys who can fill the net on a consistent basis.
Defense- As mentioned earlier, the loss of Martinek was a tough one for this unit. The Islanders are definitely thin at the blue line and could benefit by grabbing a top-tier defenseman. Mark Streit has not yet matched his impressive play of last season, although he consistently logs the most minutes of any one on D. Jack Hillen and Andrew MacDonald have been pleasant surprises, but this is definitely an area that needs to be improved soon, if not sooner.
Special Teams-Awful. Not going to sugar-coat it. The Islanders power-play, which has not scored a power play goal in the past four games, is 29th in the league with a 15.1% success rate (26-for-172). The team's penalty-kill, which has shown flashes of brilliance and single-handedly won games for the Islanders, has not fared much better. Their 76.3% PK percentage leaves them 27th in the league.
**Islanders prospect Cavin de Haan (upper=body injury) skated this morning but will not play in tonight's game against USA in WJHC.
***Rehabbing goaltender Rick DIPietro will play tomorrow in Providence in his third rehab start for Bridgeport