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Islanders positives in first half of season

Josh Bailey, Mathew Barzal and John Tavares were among the bright spots for the Isles.

Islanders center Mathew Barzal celebrates after scoring a

Islanders center Mathew Barzal celebrates after scoring a goal during a game against the Ducks on Dec. 21, 2017. Photo Credit: AP / Frank Franklin II

With the Islanders on their bye week, we’ll take a few days here to detail some of the positives, negatives and what’s to come after the team reassembles Friday to prepare for the last 39 games.

First, the good stuff:

Josh Bailey

If Bailey were a stud forward who’d been born behind the Iron Curtain in the 1960s or 1970s and didn’t make it to the NHL until his mid-20s, that might explain the huge jump in production for a 28-year-old NHLer.

In 2017-18 and for a guy already a decade into his NHL career, it’s baffling. Amazingly so, but still. Bailey is a career 0.52 points-per-game player who’s averaging 1.19 ppg so far. Playing alongside two of the top five goal-scorers certainly helps, but that doesn’t explain everything.

Bailey has 20 points in 410:13 of even-strength ice time with Tavares this season, according to naturalstattrick.com. In 2014-15, Bailey had 649:30 of even-strength ice time with Tavares and had 23 points. Last season, in 1,004:40 of even-strength ice time together, Bailey had 34 points.

Bailey’s become a mainstay on the top power-play unit and his 21 power-play points have definitely pumped up his production. But it’s not as if he’s just tapping the puck on its way from Mathew Barzal to Tavares or Anders Lee; Bailey’s game has really turned into a confident one with the puck after several years of not really generating much.

His current lower-body injury is worrisome. We’ll see what he can do coming off the break and if his absence will go longer. But there hasn’t been anything like Bailey’s current run in this era of the NHL.

Mathew Barzal

The 20-year-old rookie may have slowed down a bit in the last few weeks, but it’s relative to his teammates. Even through the 6-11-2 slide that started on Dec. 1, Barzal is second on the Isles with a 49.6 shots-for percentage at even strength.

He understands NHL teams will adjust to his speed and maneuverability. “It’s nothing different than what I’ve faced my whole life,” he said last week. “They come harder at you and you just have to raise your game.”

The Isles’ 15-7-2 start may feel a bit distant now, but remember what fueled it: Barzal and his second line dominating possession and giving opposing teams fits when deciding whom to deploy against Barzal and Tavares. That can still be the case over the second half.

As for the Calder Trophy, Barzal and his 39 points are certainly among the top candidates. Whether the Islanders get to the postseason matters to many voters. If they do, Barzal will be a big factor.

John Tavares

It’s easy to forget what the captain brings to the table when he’s skating around with a giant question mark over his head all season thanks to his contract. But 51 points in 43 games? That’s elite level production.

If the Islanders get to the postseason, Tavares will be back in the Hart Trophy conversation for sure. No one knows what Tavares is thinking about his future beyond this season, but we do know he’s been able to keep the future and the now separate, given how well he’s played.

Anders Lee

The guy just scores goals. There isn’t much more to say. Lee likely will be in the top 20 in franchise goal scoring by the end of the season after just 340 or so games. That’s Ziggy Palffy/Pierre Turgeon territory.

Jordan Eberle

For all those Islander fans who wondered why Edmonton was so keen to dump a guy who averaged 0.75 PPG and had decent possession numbers on some bad Oiler teams, your puzzlement has been justified.

Eberle was supposed to be a perfect fit with Tavares, but he’s been that with Barzal on that second line. With 14 goals and 16 assists in 43 games, “as advertised” is what you would say about Eberle, who hasn’t had a sniff of PP1 time this season. His 26 even-strength points are top 40 in the league.

Whether the Islanders can afford him beyond next season if Tavares stays is for later. For now, Eberle has been just what the Isles’ top six needed.

Adam Pelech

With a small sample size of fairly blah numbers his first two seasons, there was some head-scratching over why Garth Snow and Doug Weight would lock Pelech up for four seasons this past summer, even at a team-friendly $1.6-million per.

Pelech, 23, is starting to show why. With Calvin de Haan out for the year, Pelech has been given extra minutes and shouldered the load pretty well. No one has been good during this 19-game muddle, but his possession numbers are the best of the healthy defensemen (47.8 shots-for percentage) and his overall metrics are vastly improved over last season.

With Pelech on the ice, the Isles are generating 57.7 percent of the high-danger chances, per Natural Stat Trick. In 44 games last season, that number with Pelech on the ice was 38 percent.

Pelech is not a flashy player but with de Haan likely a goner, Pelech can be a second pair defenseman for a long time around here with the game he’s played this season.

With so few solid defensemen available in trade or free agency, Pelech’s emergence is rather large for a team that needs better defenders going forward.

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