Going into the season with a new head coach, some games scheduled at the Coliseum, a new style of play in place, and a new era without John Tavares set to begin, there was a lot of curiosity regarding the New York Islanders.
How would this team respond to new head coach Barry Trotz? How would this club do without Tavares? How would the team’s goaltending hold up with the likes of Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner?
These were just a few of the questions that surrounded the Isles prior to the season. So far at least, the answers to these questions have been mostly positive.
For starters, this team is playing well under Trotz. The team is fourth in the Metropolitan Division with 40 points, just two points behind the third place Pittsburgh Penguins and three points behind the Montreal Canadiens for the second wild card spot.
Under Trotz, this team has been unbelievable defensively. They play a simpler style, which they are in better position to block shots and breakup players, and they do a much better job of protecting their defenders.
Since the team does those things, they are currently second in the NHL in goals allowed. They have given up 95 goals in 35 games, which means that on average, they are allowing about 2.70 goals-against per game.
Compared to previous years, this number is astounding. In years past, the team would rank among the worst in team defense as they would give up a ton of goals year in and year out.
Speaking of keeping the puck out of the net, both Greiss and Lehner have played well this season. Because of their play, the team has been able to stay competitive in most of their games this season.
It is safe to say that Greiss is the number one goaltender for this hockey club. Greiss is currently 12-7-1 with a 2.53 goals-against average, a .920 save percentage, and one shutout.
Greiss has responded to Trotz’s confidence in him by being consistent this season. He has cut down on the soft goals against, has been able to make the big saves when called upon, and more importantly, has done a good job of winning hockey games for this club that they had no business being in.
Lehner has also been solid this season. He is currently 6-6-3 with a 2.44 goals-against average, a .919 save percentage, and one shutout.
At 27 years of age, I believe Lehner has a lot more to offer. He’s a big man who can move well for his size so if he can use those two things consistently and stay healthy both physically, mentally, and emotionally, this team could really end up having two number one goaltenders.
That leads us to how the offense has played without Tavares. Truth be told, this is an area that they need to improve in.
The Isles are 25th in the league in goals scored as they have scored 99 goals in 35 games. This means that the team is averaging close to three goals a game, which in the way goals are being scored this season is clearly not enough.
One reason why goals are down for this hockey club is because of the way Mathew Barzal is playing. Last year’s winner of the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league’s rookie of the year currently has just five goals on the season.
It’s tough to explain why Barzal has slowed down. He had 22 goals last season so we know that he can put the puck in the net. If Barzal can start cranking it up, the team will be much better off and even more competitive than they are now.
What also does not help is that this team only has three players who have at least 10 goals. Anders Lee leads the team with 13 goals while Brock Nelson (12 goals), and Anthony Beauvillier (11 goals) have also chipped in double digit goal totals.
This needs to change if the Islanders still want to be in the playoff conversation come April. Guys like Barzal, Josh Bailey (seven goals), Jordan Eberle (seven goals), Casey Cizikas (nine goals), and Valtteri Filppula (eight goals) need to start putting the puck in the net with more regularity to help this hockey club pick up more wins.
This hockey club is still a work in progress. With that said, they have shown that they can be a very good hockey team and that if they play the way Trotz wants them to, they could end up being a very dangerous hockey club come playoff time should they get there.