New York Islanders Leads Division Into All-Star Break
It is certainly a great year to be a New York Islanders fan: yesterday’s 7-4 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers was mainly a one-sided affair that will result in the Islanders leading the Metropolitan Division going into the All-Star break. New York also currently has the lead in the conference, but that will likely change as both Tampa Bay and Detroit could surpass them in points tonight.
This season the Islanders have been a marvel to watch, as they are technically — by a few hours — the fastest team to 30 wins and have consistently played well from month to month: 6-3 in January thus far and 8-4-1 in December, which does not even top their 11-3 record in November. And the Islanders have been able to do this because of their improved defense — both Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk added some needed depth at a struggling defensemen position — as well as solid goaltending from Jaroslav Halak, who is 25-9 with 2.41 GAA — his numbers are not mind shattering, but minus Friday’s game against the Canadiens, he has played a lot better post-September.
And lets not forget, the tremendous goal scoring by the Islanders: a team that is second in goals per game (3.2) and 14th in power play percentage (19.2). A lot of the Islanders success is predicated on the fact that John Tavares is not the lone goal scorer anymore: he still leads the team with 21 goals, but has Brock Nelson (15), Kyle Okposo (14), Anders Lee (13) and Nikolay Kulemin (11) to share the workload. This has freed up Tavares’ game a bit, as he is able to trust the players around him.
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Yes, their goals against is only 21st and their power penalty kill is 28th, yet as long as they keep scoring this poor stat will be placed on the back burner: you cannot have multiple games like the 6-4 loss to the Canadiens, however, it is amazing that after six goals the Islanders were still in it at all. Obviously, the GAA needs to improve, but their play shows how the 2014-2015 team has a different mindset from last year’s disappointing season: for all the times I criticize Jack Capuano, he seems to have finally gotten over that coaching hump — many players claim their pre-season training camp was the hardest of their professional lives.
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) January 20, 2015
And finally, lets briefly talk about what Don Cherry calls the most dominant fourth line in hockey: particularly Matt Martin, Cal Clutterbuck and Casey Cizikas, who started the season slow, but have been dominant down the stretch. In a league that has pretty much eliminated the tough guy role, the Islanders’ fourth line shines as the crew who is willing to do the dirty work.
After some inconsistent calls from the referees during yesterday’s win against the Flyers, Martin and Clutterback made it their personal crusade to dole out punishment in what became a very chippy game. And like it or not, this type of hitting makes a difference from game-to-game. Perhaps statistically they do not have the greatest numbers and Cherry comes from a hockey mindset of yesteryear, however, the fourth line has made a noticeable difference whenever they are on the ice.
Lets just hope the whole organization can keep this pace up following the All-Star break. So for now, I will “drink the Islanders kool-aid” because with 31 wins they seriously look like the real deal.
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