The Islanders have dashed to the front of the pack in the race to 48 (games). Actually, it’ s more like a race to 56 points, which is what many feel is the over/under number needed to reach the playoffs. Not many pegged the team to be where they are now, but with a history of quick starts and lengthy losing streaks shortly thereafter, it’s hard to say what is there and where they are going. Considering 5 players on the roster were acquired during the shortened preseason, and add in several homegrown rookies, the team is definitely doing well to be where they are. Could they be entering some uncharted, positive territory and maturing as a team?
You can’t say much negatively regarding the team’s offensive abilities. They’re scoring goals with 3 lines… And they are winning. Throw in returning enigmas Josh Bailey and Jesse Joensuu, and there could be something special happening on the Island. It’s about time that some players had career years and became better overall players. Add youngsters Nino Niederreiter, Ryan Strome, Kirill Kabanov, and possible even eventually Kirill Petrov to press for roster spots in the future and things become even rosier through these rose colored glasses.
Being pragmatic, I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself in fostering some well-earned appreciation for the team, but they still need to play the remaining 41 games of the year and earn about 47 points in the process. That is no small task. The team has a lot of rookies, especially on defense. They’ve got a soon to be arriving, aging, offensive defenseman, who will likely be a pariah to the fans who have bothered enduring this saga since his comments after learning of the trade that sent him to Long Island. But as with most sports dramas, solid play will cause amnesia. They’re relying heavily on a 3rd line center (Aucoin) that was never really given an chance in the NHL. The odds are against him sustaining his hot start, but if he can at least put up some points and play solid D, along with David Ullstrom and whomever finds their home on the third line) it will at least be an improved 3rd line from last season.
The team has already locked up a defenseman, waiver pickup Brian Strait, after only 6 games, for 3 years and 2+ million dollars. I’m not really sure why they had to act so quickly with him. He’s done fine so far, but do you really know what you are getting? In classic Islander’s form, they’re betting on a player to get that bargain basement contract. I’ll reserve judgement until later for him. Could be a gem, could be 3 more years of Thomas Pöck. Let’s wait for the struggles to see where he pans out in the mix of Islander defensemen.
The team is cruising now, but most people would say they are playing above their heads. 47 points or more in the next 41 games will mean the “plan” is coming alive. Another lottery pick will mean all these words were for naught. Either way, It’s been nice to enjoy some Islanders hockey when the season is still relevant. Enjoy it while it lasts.