The start of the season, now 7 games in, has been a revival of sorts for the Islanders. They've jumped out of the gate gaining valuable points in the first part of the season that should be valuable for a (dare I say) playoff push later. This team is just playing great. They just wrapped up a 5 game road trip picking up 3 wins, 1 loss and an Overtime Loss that was ridiculous against the Winnipeg Jets. They've started a 5 game set against Atlantic Division join 2-0-0 with a punishing 4-1 win against the Penguins in Pittsburgh on national TV, and followed it up tonight with a big Overtime win against the New Jersey Devils. Special teams, Evgeni Nabokov and the Offense carrying the team to a great start.
Yes, the Isles are still struggling with some aspects of the game, they're still have trouble clearing the D-zone and game preparedness. These things can be over looked as long as the team is winning, and can be worked out as the team and D (with 2 Waiver wire pickups a night in the lineup) familiarize themselves with the system and each other. It also helps that the Isles are winning with the Lubomir Visnovsky nonsense coming to a close and injuries to Josh Bailey and Jesse Joensuu. Visnovsky is due to report on the 11th and Bailey is due back in a week or so (which will bring about a VERY interesting debate on where he should play). The Isles have had solid play from unexpected sources: waiver pick ups Brian Strait and Keith Aucoin have been nothing but fantastic for the team so far, Aucoin has 4 goals on the season and Strait's solid defensive play has just earned him a 3 year $2.235M contract, or a $775k cap hit, a complete steal if he can provide this level play going forward (and at 25, why wouldn't he). Also, the team has gotten solid play from bottom 6 forwards Colin McDonald and Casey Cizikas. Cizikas picked up his first goal against the Penguins, and McDonald was playing solidly and finishing checks before taking a bad boarding call on Ben Lovejoy that picked up a 2 game suspension (Cizikas filled in admirably on the line McDonald was playing with tonight). The Islanders have been getting adversity thrown at them and passing each test with flying colors.
The Isles had a less than enthusing offseason only adding Visnovsky via trade and the fiasco that came with him, only signed Brad Boyes and Matt Carkner to NHL deals and lost top liner PA Parenteau to a deal that seemed like a drastic overpay (or underpay really, he makes the same money as teammate David Jones...who's worth closer 400k than 4M a season). PA's gotten off to a good start with Colorado and playing with Matt Duchene, who's almost at John Tavares' level of play, but Tavares is better. Instead the Isles are chugging along with the League's top Power Play (went 3/4 tonight getting goals from Tavares, Aucoin and Boyes) and number 2 Penalty Kill, not missing PA at all on special teams.
However, this team is clicking early and it's great to be an Islanders fan watching of late. Are there problems; yes, but what team doesn't have it's problems? Okay, maybe Boston, but still, the Islanders sit tied for the Atlantic (the TOUGHEST division in hockey) over teams with scorers like Malkin and Nash and Giroux. Should it feel this easy knowing your team is going into a game knowing you can hang on with the likes of New Jersey and Boston, as well as beating the Penguins on the road. This season feels like the start of something special, the team is starting to come together, and with more impact rookies on the way, we could be at the start of something great. Things feel different, and this shouldn't feel this easy; should they?