The New York Islanders are relevant?
No one saw this coming.
There are four games left in the 2018-19 regular season and the New York Islanders, yes the same New York Islanders that lost their franchise player this past off-season are sitting directly between the two teams that have won the last three Stanley Cups in the standings.
This statement in of itself would have drawn laughter if predicted before the season began even if John Tavares did not discover his childhood dream at 28 years old on July 1, 2018.
Replacing him in the Islander lineup with Valtteri Filppula, Leo Komarov, Matt Martin, Robin Lehner and Tom Kuhnhackl did nothing to divert that way of thinking. Everyone predicted that at best the Islanders would maybe challenge for a playoff spot and then fade away to play meaningless hockey after New Years. This was despite first ballot Hall of Famer to be and newly minted Stanley Cup Champion coach Barry Trotz steering the ship.
Defensive Concerns Are Gone
From game one of the season something seemed different. The Islanders were making the smart plays.
Prior to the season many fans questioned If they could chip the puck out of the defensive zone. Well, they’ve showed they can. They did it instead of the higher risk of skating or passing it out. If they were challenged in the neutral zone and had no other option the puck was simply thrown into one of the corners harmlessly instead of turning it over, resulting in an odd man rush against.
Again, fans questioned the Islanders defense. Fans were worried about their defense shutting down opposing forwards from entering into their zone with the puck. But, the Islanders did it again. They ensured that their opposition had little to no room to create a scoring chance. Cross ice passes for open one timers were minimized. Game after game the Islanders frustrated the most talented offensive teams in the National Hockey League.
Barry Trotz calls it “playing the right way”.
What a night and day difference from the run and gun Islanders of 2017-18. The ones that allowed the most goals in the league. The ones that other players on the Lightning and Barry Trotz’ own Washington Capitals laughing on how easy the Islanders were to play against when they dropped five or six goals on Islander goaltenders Thomas Greiss and Jaroslav Halak.
The Roster That Garth Built
The Islanders now sit number one in the NHL in goals against after being dead last last season with 90% of the same personnel, and 100% of the same defensive core.
We’ve never seen a team turn it around like this. How often does a team have a remarkably awful season, lose their best player and dramatically improve?
The Islanders have done it because of two simple facts. One, by doing the little things and doing them right.
Second, if it is one thing that the Islanders new regime has proven its that Garth Snow for all of his faults was not a bad judge of talent. Unfortunately, he was horrendous at was picking coaches. He was bad at forming a culture of winning. Snow was bad at putting a winning front office in place. All that is true. But, the Islanders are winning with a team primarily composed of players that Garth Snow brought here. That statement will definitively get all Garth haters fired up, but at the same time they cannot deny it as fact.
Now, before I alienate the Islander fans who ruthlessly attack anyone saying anything positive about Snow, please note that I was begging for him to be fired many years ago. He was a bad general manager. That being said you can’t deny the positives of the players on the team at this moment. They’ve helped drive this time from an abysmal season last year to a playoff berth and they’ve done it all without Tavares.
Trust The Process
Barry Trotz has the players believing. Barry Trotz and the Islander players got Islanders fans to believe again. Trust the process. Sorry Philadelphia for stealing your motto, but it’s true. Plus, the Islanders now have the rest of the hockey world believing.
Finally, the New York Islanders are back after over three decades of failure.
player profiles from Hockey-Reference.com
featured image photo credit – Nikos Michals