It has been a long month for Islanders fans.
The Islanders have a record of 6-7-2 in the month of February, which is not normal considering the play they have shown since Barry Trotz took over the bench. As a lifelong Islanders fan, it is killing me that this team hardly put the puck in the net, especially with talent such as Mathew Barzal and Anders Lee on offense.
All year fans have been blaming Thomas Greiss and Semyon Varlamov (the goaltenders) for the losses and not being able to keep the team in the game. Varlamov has a 2.47 Goals Against Average with a .920 Save Percentage (per February 24). Greiss was exceptional for the Islanders in the beginning of this season and all of last season, but has fallen off with a .916 Save Percentage and a 2.65 Goals Against Average (per February 24). The goaltenders have clearly been pretty solid this season, as shown in their stats listed above. If the Islanders were to make a deep playoff push this tandem would be able to be the anchor for the team.
The defense has been the strength of the Islanders for the last two seasons. The most intriguing part about the D-core is that they are relatively young. Johnny Boychuk leads the way with age, as he is 36 years of age, but a very reliable asset on the blue line. When he came to the organization in 2014 he brought a partner with him by the name of Nick Leddy. Nick Leddy is as good as a skater as anyone in the league and gets the fans to the edge of their seats when he has the puck.
Youngster Devon Toews had a very compelling rookie campaign last season, showing he is a smooth skater and a reliable defenseman. His defensive partner Scott Mayfield is a big body (6’4″ 209 pounds) who the fans love to see lay a check on a poor forward entering the zone. Ryan Pulock developed to become the Islanders number one defenseman throughout the past few seasons. Pulock has come up clutch in certain situations using his rocket of a slap shot, along with being one of the best defensemen on the ice.
His defensive partner, Adam Pelech has developed into a solid defenseman. This was not true before the Trotz-era as he struggled to stay in the lineup. Unfortunately, Pelech went down with a recent Achilles tendon injury that will sideline him for the season.
Due to this fact, Islanders GM Lou Lamiorello called his former team, the New Jersey Devils, to trade Andy Greene to the Islanders for a 2nd round pick and David Quenniville. The Islanders D-core is extremely reliant for a postseason run, especially with highly touted prospect Noah Dobson waiting for his chance.
The one weakness that can hold back the Islanders is their offense.
The Islanders have plenty of talent to score with forwards Mathew Barzal, Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, Jordan Eberle, Josh Bailey, and Anthony Beauvillier leading the way. The fourth line is considered the best in the NHL, this line contains bruiser Matt Martin, grinder Casey Cizikas, and instigator Cal Clutterbuck. Although, this line does not have the most skill, they have been able to be the best line for the Islanders going back to the Tavares-era. For two straight seasons this offense has yet to consistently put the puck in the net.
Last trade deadline the Islanders had a deal set up for Mark Stone (currently with Vegas) and planned to sign him long term, but the value was too high for Lou and he decided to stay put. The Islanders ended up losing in the second round of the playoffs to the Carolina Hurricanes due to their lack of scoring ability.
During this current season, they have been able to score more as Barzal is shooting more and making plays happen. Lou also went out to sign Derrick Brassard in the offseason which bolstered the offense as he has been playing excellent. Kieffer Bellows has been called up from the AHL and so far he has looked promising to the Islanders future.
Shifting to the present, at today’s trade deadline, Lou called Ottawa and traded a first round pick, second round pick, and a conditional third round pick for Jean-Gabriel Pageau. JG Pageau has 24 goals and 40 points this season, giving the Islanders another goal scorer that will for sure make their playoff push easier. Pageau was a pending UFA, but within hours signed a 6-year $30 million extension with the Islanders.
The best starting lineup for the Islanders in the playoffs should look something like this:
The offense is now looking solid, previous to their performance recently. I am truly excited to see how far this team can go into the playoffs with this very appealing team, and huge addition of Pageau.
Photo: USA Today Sports