For a long time in New York, it was always about the New York Rangers when it came to hockey.
The Blueshirts won a Cup in 1994, went to the Eastern Conference Finals in 1997, 2012, 2014, and 2015, went to the Cup Final again in 2014, and with the exception of seven seasons or so, they were mostly a playoff hockey team. Sure, they have not won a Cup since that remarkable and magical 1994 season, but they have been more than competitive and had more than reestablished themselves on the NHL map.
The Islanders, are on the other hand, were awful for quite awhile. They were many springs with a playoff appearance, lots of coaching changes, a lot of different goaltenders and since their magical Wales Conference Finals run in the 1992-93 season, they have won just one round in the playoffs.
Going into this season, however, there was much a different feel. With a new General Manager in Lou Lamoriello and new head coach in Barry Trotz, the franchise now had two masterminds running the hockey club.
Through the team’s first half of the season, it appears that moves up top have payed dividends on the ice in a big way. Not only is this team currently in the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, but they are also just three points behind the Metropolitan Division leading Columbus Blue Jackets.
As of this writing, the Isles are 26-15-4, thanks to an 8-2 run in their last ten games. With their 2-1 overtime win over the St. Louis Blues on January 15, the Isles are 13th in the league and are actually one point out of the top ten in the league so you know that things are going extremely well for this hockey club right now.
The major reason why this team is playing so well is because they ave finally figured out a way to keep the puck out of their net. The Isles are currently first in the league in goals allowed as they have given up just 115 goals in 45 games.
Last season, this team was the worst defensive team in the entire league and now, their the best. The main reason for this is because of Trotz.
Trotz implemented a much tighter defensive system and the team has perfected it. They now play responsibly in both ends, they back check, they create turnovers, and they’re hard on pucks.
Speaking of keeping the puck out of the net, the team has also gotten great goaltending from both Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss. Lehner is currently 13-7-3 with a 2.16 goals-against average, a .928 save percentage and two shutouts while Greiss is currently 13-8-1 with a 2.62 goals-against average, a .918 save percentage, and one shutout.
For the first time in what seems like ages, this team now has two good goaltenders. Each of these guys can play a lot of games and this season, while the other one has sat on the bench, there has not been much of a drop off in play with whoever is in goal.
Lastly, this team is starting to believe that they can accomplish great things. In looking at this roster, they have scoring depth, a solid defensive corps and two good goaltenders who have been exceptional this season.
When you have those kinds of things on a consistent basis, it leads to wins. If the Isles continue to get these things and continue to improve in all areas of their game, they could be an unbelievably dangerous club come April.
The Associated Press