18 thoughts about the Islanders at the All-Star break
The Islanders reached the all star break of the NHL season from their perspective last night and there is a lot to talk about. They currently sit third in the Metropolitan Division behind the Rangers and Capitals, although they can overtake the Rangers with their two games in hand.
These are some of the things I thought of from the “first half” of the year.
1. This run after the break will separate the Islanders into one of two categories: men or boys. They didn’t have as good of a first half as last year, so a repeat of the awful second half last year cannot happen. They don’t have too much breathing room regarding playoffs, either.
2. John Tavares finally seems to be getting back to his old self again, which is good. He needs to be on the top of his game always, it’s just what is required from your superstars. Sure there are anomaly games, but Tavares hit a huge rough patch in December/January and is just now breaking out of it. You have to wonder if he is or was hiding an injury, if the mystery illness was still affecting him, or he just lost some motivation for a while. The last one is the least likely, but it’s still something to look into.
3. Speaking of Tavares, there’s right to be worried about him for the all star game. The guy could really use some rest and the 3 on 3 tournament for twenty minutes definitely won’t help that. He seems to get tired really easily as of late.
4. In terms of the all star game, Frans Nielsen should be there. He’s been the Islanders’ MVP all season long. He’s been his usual good defensive self, and to top that he’s having a career year offensively. Nielsen is such a huge part to the club which is why he’ll likely get contract priority over Kyle Okposo in the summer.
5. The Islanders need to make a splash at the trade deadline, but not necessarily a big one. They don’t need to sacrifice a first round pick or a top prospect for Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, or anyone of that nature, but they do need to add someone. Some players I like for depth are Kris Versteeg or David Jones.
6. The team needs Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolay Kulemin to be better. Kulemin has his penalty kill duties which he does well. Still, some more offense from the both of them would be appreciated.
7. I don’t think there’s reason to worry about Anders Lee. He seems to have shifted his game when playing 5v5 to an along the boards type style rather than in front of the net like he played when with John Tavares. He doesn’t get as many points from that standpoint, but he opens up a lot of room for his linemates. He does however get in front of the net on the powerplay, which the team needs. He’ll get back on track in the points department soon (even though he’s not going to be that far off from his total last year).
8. Speaking of not worrying: how about Brock Nelson? He’s channeled his inner sniper and has started shooting the puck more and has found himself on Tavares’ line again. Having someone that can shoot from almost anywhere on the ice would be a huge plus for the top line. He’s done just that and leads the team in goals now with 19.
9. Thomas Greiss has been a nice surprise. I knew he was going to be a good backup, but he has really taken the reigns and run with it. There’s no complaining or sense of doubt when he gets the start. He held the fort while Halak was out despite two rough games to Pittsburgh and Dallas, but I think he was overworked at that point.
10. Regarding Kyle Okposo and the upcoming trade deadline, you have to keep him. Having him for the playoff run then risking losing him is something I’d be willing to do.
11. Calvin de Haan has been great so far this year. After a stellar rookie season, he looked like he fell off a cliff for most of 2014-2015. His game has improved tremendously and he has become one of the most reliable Isles defensemen in the back end.
12. Another young defenseman, Adam Pelech, also looked good this year. Unfortunately after just seven games he was ruled out indefinitely with an injury and it looks season ending. He looked fine during the end of the Rangers game so hopefully it is not something serious and not non-hockey related. Best of luck to Pelech in his recovery and to that it is nothing worse than it seems.
13. Nick Leddy started off slow offensively this year but he has picked it up as of late, but it was never in doubt. Leddy is an extremely skilled skater and can play in almost any situation. He and Travis Hamonic made up the top defense pair for the team until Hamonic and Boychuk got injured and it worked well. I wouldn’t be surprised if it went back to that after the break when Boychuk returns.
14. Not related to the season, but I really like Parker Wotherspoon as a prospect. Fourth rounder in 2015, solid two way defender. 42 points in 46 WHL games this year. Watch out for him in the future — trade bait or development wise.
15. I like the way the Isles are treating the penalty kill this year. They’re attacking the players and not waiting for the players to converge onto them. So far it’s working and the Isles are at 87.2 percent (2nd in the league).
16. As for the powerplay, they’re middle of the road at 17.5 percent (18th in the league). The current first unit is Tavares, Nielsen, Lee, Okposo, and Leddy, but personally I’d try out Nelson in place of Okposo. Okposo is a good player but hasn’t been nearly as effective as he should be on the first line powerplay.
17. Marek Zidlicky hasn’t been nearly as impressive as I thought he would be. He is just as advertised: an offensive defenseman. He has a good shot but doesn’t use it enough. He knows how to escape coverage in the offensive zone. He also seems to find himself making unnecessary plays often. The thing that bugs me the most about Zidlicky is how slow he is getting to the puck. He seems to just watch it and drift toward it until he is out of position and gets beaten by the attacker.
18. The Islanders need to be better in the first period. They far too often come out flat-footed and are run into the ground in the first twenty minutes. They’re a fantastic third period team, but it’s tough having to battle from behind all the time. Whether you put that on the players or coaches is up to you.
That’s about all I can think of for now. The second half of the season will be a sprint for the Islanders and they need to be ready to take the bull by the horns. That goes for management and players. The last thing in the world this team needs is a subpar second half and a playoff miss.