Casey Cizikas

Islanders’ winning streak reaches 10 games

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The New York Islanders are doing their part to silence the critics and doubters that were waiting for them to regress this season.

And they are silencing them emphatically.

With their 4-1 win over the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night they extended their winning streak to 10 consecutive games, improved their record to 11-3-0 and pulled to within three points of the first place Washington Capitals while still having played in two fewer games.

After falling behind early, the Islanders scored four consecutive goals from four different players. Among the goal scorers were veterans Josh Bailey, Cal Clutterbuck, and Casey Cizikas, and rookie Cole Bardreau who scored his first career goal — also the game-winner — on a penalty shot.

So, about the Islanders.

I admit I was one of the people that was, let’s say skeptical, of their chances to repeat last year’s success and wasn’t sure how they would do without Robin Lehner. It was going to be a big test to see how much of the success was goaltending and how much of it was a real change to the defensive structure to a roster that, quite honestly, isn’t exactly loaded with All-Star talent, especially up front. But the results are the results, and they keep winning. A lot. The Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference as a whole is going to be extremely competitive this season and the Islanders have certainly given themselves an outstanding cushion.

They have a chance to extend their winning streak to 11 games on Thursday night when they host the Pittsburgh Penguins, the team they swept in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs a year ago.

Their next three games are all at home.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Lee’s lead-by-example captaincy garners results for Islanders

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The New York Islanders could have played it safe a year ago when John Tavares bolted for Toronto.

But head coach Barry Trotz recognized an obvious candidate to fill a leadership role and didn’t hesitate to follow his instincts.

Anders Lee was in position to leave the organization as he headed toward unrestricted free agency and could have been the second captain in as many seasons to walk out the door.

But that didn’t stop Trotz from announcing Lee as the 15th captain in franchise history and the team is benefiting today from that important decision last season.

Lee changed the direction of the game with a critical goal in the early part of the first period in the Islanders’ 5-3 victory against the Philadelphia Flyers Sunday. The team’s seven-game winning streak is the longest (in a single season) since they won nine straight in the 1989-90 season per team statistician Eric Hornick.

The 29-year-old power forward won a race to the corner to help the Islanders establish possession in the offensive zone, then beat Flyers defenseman Travis Sanheim to the back post to even the score at 3:17 of the first period.

”He’s our leader,” fourth-line center Casey Cizikas said. ”When you see him and he plays like that, getting to pucks, taking the body, fight in those dirty areas, you want to follow him. That’s what you want in your captain and he has done a tremendous job at leading us.”

The Islanders followed in Lee’s footsteps, scoring four of the next five goals as the team climbed to second place in the Metropolitan Division on the back of a seven-game winning streak following a 1-3-0 start to the season.

“You always look to your leadership and they’re going to set the tone,” Trotz said. “His (Lee) goal was a great example of leadership. Leadership is, you don’t have a license to do less, you have a responsibility to do more. He knew it was a big game, and he did more.”

The culture surrounding the Islanders has changed radically since Lou Lamoriello and Trotz arrived on Long Island. The Islanders have posted a 55-30-7 record and won a round in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for only the second time since the 1992-93 season.

[RELATED: In-depth look at Isles’ winning streak | Isles on the rise in Power Rankings]

The Islanders have established an identity over that time as a defensively sound team that frustrates opponents. But their mental toughness has been the team’s attribute that has seen the most significant improvement.

Take Sunday for example. Flyers forward Jakub Voracek scored 1:07 into the game and the Islanders didn’t blink.

”It didn’t affect us.” Trotz said of the early deficit. ”I thought our minds were in the right place. I don’t think it even fazed us.”

One of Lee’s most impressive traits is that he does a tremendous job creating a familial atmosphere that translates to success on and off the ice.

“We play for each other, it’s been a lot of fun,” said Derick Brassard.

Trotz and Lamoriello have played a large part in helping the Islanders form a new identity, but that message gets lost in the shuffle if a group of players is not able to relay the same information to their peers. Veterans Johnny Boychuk, Josh Bailey, Cal Clutterbuck have been able to assist, but they are clearly following in the footsteps of Lee.

The organization took a gamble naming Lee captain at the start of last season, a risk that is paying huge dividends today.

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Islanders’ winning streak reaches 6 with game that had everything

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Thanks to their 4-2 win over the Ottawa Senators on Friday night the New York Islanders are now the owners of the NHL’s longest winning streak this season, extending their current streak to six games.

That winning streak matches their longest winning streak from the 2018-19 season. They will try to make it seven consecutive games on Sunday at home against the Philadelphia Flyers. Six of their next seven games take place on home ice.

But back to Friday’s game for a second because this one had a little bit of everything, including…

Nick Leddy had a hat trick — until he didn’t

For about 20 minutes it appeared as if Leddy had recorded a natural hat trick by scoring three consecutive goals, which would have made him the first Islanders defender to record a hat trick since Denis Potvin. That moment in history would be short-lived, however, as a scoring change later took away his third goal and awarded it to forward Matt Martin. Tough break, but still a big night for one of the Islanders’ top defenders. Especially since…

Leddy still made Islanders history

And he did so thanks to his second goal which he scored on a penalty shot.

That is a big moment for the Islanders because it marked the first time in Islanders’ franchise history that a defender scored on a penalty shot. Here is a look at the play.

Entering play on Friday Leddy had scored just five goals in his past 98 games dating back to the start of the 2018-19 season (including playoffs). He scored two in five minutes of game-time on Friday, then nearly added a third.

One of the Tkachuk brothers was making people mad again

Usually it is Matthew causing trouble out in Calgary, but on this night it was Brady getting into it with Islanders forward Casey Cizikas.

Do not mess with Thomas Greiss

He was excellent in the Islanders’ net by stopping 30 of 32 shots he faced. The only Senator that seemed to give him an issue was forward Tyler Ennis, who not only scored both of the Senators’ goals, but also started a little bit of a melee late in the game when he poked his stick into Greiss’ glove, infuriating the Islanders goalie.

After starting the season 1-3 the Islanders have been on a roll to climb back toward the top of the Metropolitan Division to not only keep pace with the Washington Capitals, but also try to show their success a year ago was not a fluke.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Sustainability, Ho-Sang’s development are top questions for Islanders

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New York Islanders.

Pondering three important questions for the 2019-20 New York Islanders.

1. Can they do it again?

After losing John Tavares and not really doing anything significant to replace him on the ice expectations were understandably low for the 2018-19 Islanders. They ended up shattering all of them, made the playoffs, advanced to the second round for the second time since 1993, and were one of the biggest surprises in the league.

The question, then, is obvious: Can they do it again and build off of that success?

The most shocking part of the turnaround was that the Islanders went from being the worst defensive team in the NHL to the best in just one season. That is where the question of sustainability comes in. While it is easy to point to Barry Trotz and his defensive system as the cause of the turnaround, the reality is the Islanders were blessed with an outstanding goaltending performance from Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss that masked a lot of flaws. Can Greiss repeat his performance? Can Semyon Varlamov stay healthy enough and be good enough to match what Lehner did? If the answer to those questions turns out to be no, it could put a pretty significant dent in the Islanders’ ability to prevent goals.

This season will be a big test for just how much Trotz’s system and approach really improved the Islanders because they are bringing back largely the same team, except with a potentially lesser goalie.

[MORE: 2018-19 Summary | Under Pressure]

2. Who is going to score the goals?

It was a good thing for the Islanders that they were so good defensively last year because their offense was not particularly good. They finished the regular season 22nd in goals scored, 29th in shots on goal per game, and 29th on the power play. Among the 16 playoff teams no team was worse in those same areas.

What did the Islanders do to address that this offseason? Nothing.

They did manage to retain all of their top free agent forwards (Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, and Jordan Eberle) but they did not add a significant piece from outside the organization while several teams around them in their own division made significant additions.

There is reason to believe Mathew Barzal can have a bigger season, and that will certainly help. But Valtteri Filppula‘s 17 goals walked out the door in free agency and it seems possible, if not likely, that Casey Cizikas will regress after a completely unexpected 20 goal performance.

3. Will this be Josh Ho-Sang’s year?

One thing that could really help the Islanders’ offense? Josh Ho-Sang putting everything together and becoming a regular in the lineup. Ho-Sang’s young career with the Islanders has been a tumultuous one to this point as he’s never fully gained the trust of any of his coaches (or the organization as a whole) despite having a ton of talent and potential.

His offensive skills have never been in doubt, and he’s actually produced at a pretty solid rate at the NHL level. He has 24 points in 53 career games, a per-game average that comes out to around 37 points over 82 games. It may not seem like an eye-popping number, but keep in mind that only four Islanders recorded more than 37 points last season, and Ho-Sang has produced those numbeers despite getting limited minutes in his brief NHL action.

But his all-around game has never seemed to develop enough for the organization to fully commit to him. He just re-signed on a one-year contract on Monday and can not be sent to the American Hockey League without passing through waivers, so this is probably a make-or-break year for him with the Islanders.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

PHT Power Rankings: Top regression candidates for 2019-20 NHL season

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A week ago we used our PHT Power Rankings to look at 10 players that could be on the verge of a breakout during the 2019-20 NHL season.

This week we go to the opposite end of the spectrum and look at 10 players that could be due for a regression back to reality.

Regression candidates tend to be pretty easy to spot and usually come from players coming off of outlier seasons or were riding extremely high shooting percentages or save percentages that are simply not sustainable from one season to the next. Can they still be good? Absolutely. Will they be as good? Probably not.

Who are the biggest regression candidates this season?

To the rankings!

1. Casey Cizikas, New York Islanders. Prior to 2018-19, Cizikas had played parts of seven seasons and never scored more than nine goals, averaging just eight per 82 games played. That is what made his 20-goal output such a surprise. It was a great year, but it was mostly driven by an 18 percent shooting percentage that was nearly 10 points higher than his career average. That sort of spike is not sustainable for any player, let alone one that has a 400-plus game sampling as a fourth-liner with limited offensive ability.

2. Joe Pavelski, Dallas Stars. Pavelski has been one of the most underrated goal-scorers of his era and is coming off a monster 38-goal season for the Sharks. Even if he regresses from that number he should still be a great addition for a top-heavy Stars team that needs secondary scoring. They just shouldn’t be counting on him to push the 40-goal mark again. He had a career-high shooting percentage (20.2 percent!) at age 34, making him a textbook candidate for regression. Consider that only one other player since 2000 has shot higher than 20 percent at age 34 or older (Mario Lemieux during the 2000-01 season). A more reasonable expectation for Pavelski: 20-25 goals.

3. Robin Lehner, Chicago Blackhawks. With all due respect to Barry Trotz and the coaching job he did, no one person meant more to the 2018-19 New York Islanders than Lehner. His .930 save percentage masked a lot of flaws and was the driving force behind the team’s improbable defensive turnaround. That is an almost impossible performance to maintain year-to-year, and he is now going to a team in Chicago that still has some big question marks defensively and has been one of the worst defensive teams in the NHL the past two years.

4. Alex Chiasson, Edmonton Oilers. Chiasson was one of the few things Peter Chiarelli touched in Edmonton that didn’t immediately turn into a dumpster fire. He scored 22 goals for the Oilers, nearly doubling his previous career high, and was one of the small handful of players that actually exceeded expectations. Getting a lot of time next to Connor McDavid helped, as did an 18 percent shooting percentage.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

5. Cody Eakin, Vegas Golden Knights. In the three full seasons prior to 2018-19 Eakin scored just 30 total goals. He followed that up by scoring 22 last season alone. He is a negative possession player (and looks even worse relative to his team), doesn’t generate a lot of shots on goal, and is coming off of a career-high shooting percentage. Bet on him being closer to 10 goals this season than 20.

6. Jeff Skinner, Buffalo Sabres. The 2018-19 season could not have worked out better for Skinner on an individual level. He had a career year in a contract year and cashed in with a mega-deal with the Buffalo Sabres. He scored 37 goals two years ago and seems to have great chemistry with one of the league’s best centers (Jack Eichel) so he should be capable of another huge year, but another 40-goal season seems like it’s asking a lot.

7. Darcy Kuemper, Arizona Coyotes. He filled in admirably for an injured Antti Raanta and was one of the biggest reasons the Coyotes were able to hang around in the playoff race until the final week of the regular season. That performance, however, was a pretty big outlier in his career, and if Raanta is able to stay healthy he will be in a competition for playing time. Expectations for Kuemper in 2019-20: Lower them … at least a little.

8. Elias Lindholm, Calgary Flames. A fresh start in Calgary turned out to be just what the doctor ordered for Lindholm as it produced a career-year that saw him shatter all of his career highs. There is reason to believe a lot of the improvement is real (great possession numbers, a shooting percentage that wasn’t a huge outlier, playing alongside talented players) but another 50-assist, 78-point season seems like a high bar for him to match.

9. Andrew Shaw, Chicago Blackhawks. On a per-game basis the 2018-19 season was by far the best one of Shaw’s career, so it was probably a good idea for the Canadiens to sell high on that and move him. Given the Blackhawks’ lack of forward depth he is probably going to be given a significant role, but I don’t know how willing I am to bet on him scoring at 60-point pace over 82 games again.

10. Ryan Strome, New York Rangers. After a nightmare experience with the Oilers, Strome went to the Rangers and erupted offensively with 18 goals in the final 63 games of the regular season. He did this despite averaging just 1.27 shots on goal per game and getting caved in from a possession standpoint. Sometimes players go on hot streaks that eventually fizzle out. His debut with the Rangers was most likely a short-lived hot streak that will eventually fizzle out.

Also worth mentioning: Jaroslav Halak (Boston Bruins), Jared McCann (Pittsburgh Penguins), Ryan Dzingel (Carolina Hurricanes), Ben Bishop (Dallas Stars)

Related: Top breakout candidates for 2019-20 NHL season

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.