By Daniel Friedman
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For the Islanders and their fans, the 2015-16 season has been one of significant transition — both on and off the ice.
The team has a new arena, a new game day routine (that has since been abandoned for the team’s former way of life on Long Island), and a new round of obstacles to overcome. The Isles have has an opportunity to strike gold in the burgeoning borough of Brooklyn, and to prove to the rest of the NHL that they’re the real deal.
There has been a lot of pressure, and truth be told, this whole situation could’ve gone even worse than it has from multiple standpoints. Through 47 games, the Islanders have shown that they’re a pretty good team, but they’ve also shown reasons for concern.
They’ve won 25 games but have done so an in inconsistent manner. Goaltenders Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss have stood on their respective heads several times to keep the Isles in games they’ve had no business winning.
One night the offense is explosive, the next night it fizzles out. The Islanders will wake up for certain games but come out with zero energy at other times. It’s been a bit of a roller coaster.
Defensively, I think the Isles are in pretty good shape despite the injuries to Travis Hamonic and Johnny Boychuk. Nick Leddy has stepped up, which has given them a tremendous boost. Adam Pelech showed promise before going down with what’s likely a season-ending injury. Calvin de Haan has been much better recently. So, there’s certainly been plenty to like.
However, the power play continues to be a major eyesore. It amazes me how a team can have so much talent to work with and yet be so incompetent with the man-advantage. Assistant coach Doug Weight has done well with this unit in the past, but that hasn’t been the case in a few years. I’ve always felt Ryan Pulock would make a big difference in getting things back on track, but the Isles for reasons known only to them have not yet brought him up from AHL Bridgeport.
And, while we’re talking about the coaching staff, Jack Capuano has been holding the Islanders back, despite the fact the standings might tell you otherwise (and they do).
Between all the constant line juggling to the mishandling of younger players, Capuano just seems to push all the wrong buttons. Ryan Strome gets sent to Bridgeport every time he turns the puck over, but Anders Lee gets a pass all season long despite his atrocious performance to date. It all makes little sense.
The fact the Isles can never seem to wake up for an important game unless it’s against the Rangers is troubling as well. It says a lot about the mindset that has (or hasn’t) been instilled in the locker room.
The Islanders are pretty much where I expected them to be before the season started, in third place in the Metropolitan Divison, behind the Rangers and Capitals. But what I didn’t expect was a steep decline in production from John Tavares, and from the rest of the Isles’ offense, for that matter.
I think it’s fair to say that expectations for this forward group were higher, and they should have been. The goals have been coming lately, and hopefully that continues, but certain players like Lee have yet to really get going. This offense is capable of better, and it’s capable of being lethal as currently constructed.
The Islanders are where they should be in the standings, but they’re not showing that level of consistency that’s required of a team ready to take the next step.
I think the Islanders will finish in the same spot they currently occupy, and I suspect they will make some sort of trade to bolster their lineup. Beyond that, though, I don’t think they’re going anywhere. I don’t consider them to be structured or consistent enough to win a playoff round. If they draw the Rangers, they will probably lose. If they slip down to a wild card spot and face Washington, they will almost certainly lose.
Regular season success means very little unless your game and level of discipline translates to playoff hockey. The brand being played by the Isles these days is anything but. They’re not going hard to the net and getting traffic in front with any consistency, and they’re not showing enough discipline. And, though they might be capable of doing those things, they have yet to really do so in 2015-16.
If the Islanders want to win a playoff round, they’re going to have to step up in a big way over the final 35 games. Because what’s won them 25 games to this point won’t win them much of anything in April or May.
And that’s what separates the great teams from the ones that are merely good.
Follow Daniel Friedman on Twitter at @bardownhowitzer