With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the surprises and disappointments for the New York Islanders.
Islanders carry over surprises from 2018-19 for a hot start
To be honest, I expected the Islanders to be scrappy this season, but to narrowly miss the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Through late November, that prediction looked as inaccurate as those who expected the Islanders to dwell in the cellar after John Tavares left during the summer of 2018.
Even factoring in Barry Trotz’s outstanding defensive acumen, it’s simply asking a lot for goalies to match what Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner pulled off in 2018-19. Yet, the Islanders combined more great goaltending (this time from Greiss and Semyon Varlamov) and timely scoring to start 2019-20 as one of the NHL’s hottest surprises.
It’s telling that the Islanders briefly topped PHT’s Power Rankings with their 16-3-1 record as of Nov. 21.
By compiling a franchise-record 16-game point streak, one wondered how high the Islanders might soar.
Betting on Varlamov (.920 save percentage through Dec. 31) over Lehner looked better than some figured. Meanwhile, Greiss continued his Trotz-era Renaissance (.919 save percentage during the same frame). The Islanders seemed poised to show that their way worked, and to an elite degree.
Islanders stumble as time goes on
However, you could argue that the Islanders couldn’t always walk what often felt like an all-defense tightrope. That high-wire act began to unravel, particularly from mid-January and on.
You can see that slippage in the big, shining neon light that was a seven-game losing streak entering the pause. But, really, the Islanders’ slide extended back a couple of months. If you want to hammer home disappointments for Islanders fans, you can’t get much more dramatic than “opening the door for the Rangers.”
That’s all disappointing, especially since the Islanders made some fairly aggressive trades (for Andy Greene and J.G. Pageau) to improve and patch up injuries. Your level of surprise likely revolves around how sustainable you thought the Islanders’ successes really were.
Looking at certain stats, it’s clear the luck swung violently the other way.
Via Natural Stat Trick, the Islanders tied with those hated Rangers for the fourth-highest PDO (save percentage + shooting percentage, a decent proxy for luck) of 102 through Dec. 31. Looking at 2020 alone, the Islanders ranked sixth-lowest with a 98.5 mark.
A higher-scoring team might have been able to weather slippage from Varlamov (.908 save percentage since Jan. 1) and Greiss (.901 during that span), but the Islanders struggled.
Surprises and disappointments for Islanders on offense
Modest offense from the Islanders shouldn’t rank among surprises, but the team not finding ways to inject more offense could be seen as one of their disappointments.
Considering how stringent the Islanders’ system is, Mathew Barzal leading the team with 60 points is understandable. It feels a bit wrong for a player that talented, but a lot is being asked of Barzal and a few others.
That said, the Islanders made things work — enough — thanks to nice scoring by committee.
Beyond some continued strong play from Anders Lee and Brock Nelson, the Islanders also made a smart, low-risk gamble on Derick Brassard. The oft-traded forward ranked eighth in team scoring with 32 points. That’s pretty nifty stuff from a $1.2 million investment.
The Islanders have to hope that they see solid growth in Noah Dobson and Oliver Wahlstrom like they did in Anthony Beauvillier this season.
Overall, I’d say that the pleasant surprises outweighed the disappointments for the Islanders in 2019-20. Of course, we’ll have to see if play resumes to learn what other twists and turns were coming.
MORE ON THE ISLANDERS:
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.