The Islanders got off to a slow start in the 2016-2017 season, but here at the end of January they are still very much alive in the playoff race. The team fired Jack Capuano on January 17th, and have since had a record of 2-0-1 with interim head coach Doug Weight. The team looks to be playing with more confidence and since Weight took over.
Looking at the Wild Card race, the Islanders with 47 points are just 5 points behind the 2nd Wild Card team, the Philadelphia Flyers. At this point, they’d have to jump 6 teams which is not an easy task, but the way the season started, Islander fans should be thrilled that the team still has a decent shot. An advantage the Islanders have is that they have at least 1 game in hand on every team in front of them, including 3 on the Flyers. That being said, the team must take care of business if they want to make it to the playoffs for a 3rd consecutive season.
A huge turning point in the season was when the Islanders waived Jaroslav Halak, and have since rolled with Thomas Greiss as their starting goalie. Greiss appears to give the Islanders the best chance to win every night, as he has also been very hot of lately, including back to back shutouts last week. While Jack Capuano took most of the blame for the Islanders’ inability to hold leads late in games, that also falls on the shoulders of the goalie. Greiss also came through big for the Islanders in the 2015-2016 playoffs, being a huge part in why the team won that series against the Florida Panthers. I think having him be the number 1 goalie was the right call.
They also have gotten a lot of production from Anders Lee. After the team let 2 of the team’s better offensive players go in Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielson, someone needed to step up alongside John Tavares. Lee has been that guy, with 17 goals thus far on the season with 24 points overall. If the team could get more production from Andrew Ladd, who was their big free agent signing, it would greatly help the offense. However, Lee has been solid this season after a slow start, and is feasting playing on the same line as John Tavares.
And who could forget John Tavares, who has been playing some of the best hockey of his career over the last 6 games, with 8 goals and an assist. The team is reliant on him, if he continues this tear, others around him will improve.
While the Islanders still have a lot of work to do to make the playoffs, if I told you a month ago they’d only be 5 points out of a playoff spot, would you believe me? Well, they are with still a lot of hockey to play. It is important that they strictly focus on beating the team in front of them. They have to jump a bunch of teams, but it is very possible. The beauty of hockey is that right now the Islanders are tied for last in the Eastern Conference, but we’re still talking playoff possibilities in late January. So, if the Islanders want to make the playoffs, they need Thomas Greiss to keep up the consistency, John Tavares to continue his dominance, and help from other players like Anders Lee, Andrew Ladd, and Brock Nelson. There’s still a lot of hockey to be played, and the Islanders are 1 run away from being in business. As a hockey fan, you can’t ask for anything more than your team playing meaning fun games down the stretch. Hopefully in March, the Islanders will still be in striking distance to take hold of the 2nd Wild Card spot.
All stats via nhl.com