Do you ever have that thought while scrolling through the internet? Its just something that sticks in your mind and leads you to an endless hockey reference, daily faceoff and analytical hole that you can’t escape from no matter how hard you try? Yeah, me too. Hence this piece.
So the question that led to this article… ‘How many goals is Mat Barzal on pace to score this year?’
The answer? 22. The same as last year.
In fact, almost every star on the Islanders is on pace to match last years totals.
So whats the difference then? Why is this team suddenly fighting for a play off spot when everyone had all but counted them out this summer? If the Islanders, who finished at the bottom of the Metro with John Tavares last season, are now without the star power that JT brings (along with 37 G and 47 A, for 84 Pts) and none of their stars are truly stepping in to replace those points… how are they suddenly good?
quality depth, and solid goaltending.
When it comes to the offense, there are 3 players, who have brought the Islanders’ new life this season by showing up and stepping out. Casey Cizikas (4C), Brock Nelson (2C) and Scott Mayfield (3D).
Casey Cizikas (4C)
2017-2018 Cizikas had 7G, 10A – 17 P.
2018-2019 Cizikas is on pace for 27G, 13A – 40 P. Career highs in both goals and assists. Cizikas isn’t seeing an increase in playing time, or time on special teams, having only one special teams goal, and it was short handed. So what has led to the fourth liner’s new found success?
My guess is the physicality of his line mates. Dubbed ‘The Best 4th Line in Hockey’ the recently reunited trio of Cizikas, Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin strikes fear into those that have to face the Islanders. This line is not going to out finesse their competition, or out run them, but if they can’t get around you, they are going to go through you. They out muscle and out work their competition and wear them down.
Watching Cizikas’s goals, you can see the fight and tenacity that the line has. They know who they are, and they are letting the league know as well, and it has led to unparalleled success for the 27 year old.
Brock Nelson (2C)
2017-2018 Brock Nelson had 19G, 16A – 35 P in 82 Games
2018-2019 Brock Nelson, in 37 games, already has 12G and 12A for 24 points, putting his final year prediction at 27G, 27A – 54P. All of which would be career highs.
Brock Nelson is probably the person that has benefited the most from the loss of Tavares. Nelson has stepped onto Tavares’ line with Anders Lee, but against lesser competition as the line of Mathew Barzal and Josh Bailey has become the first line and receives the hardest defensive match-ups. This movement allows Brock Nelson to use his own offensive skill, feed of the obvious capabilities of the Islanders’ captain, and take advantage of the talent ahead of him in the line up by capitalizing on easier defenseman.
Brock Nelson has broken out this year, and if he can keep it up, which is a big if, he could become a dependable and much needed player in the future of Long Island hockey. Especially since this is a contract year for the center.
Scott Mayfield (3D)
2017-2018 Scott Mayfield: 2G-10A-12P in 47 Games Played
2018-2019 Scott Mayfield: 3G-10A-13P in 35 Games Played. While slightly better than last years stats, the key to Mayfield’s game is going to be staying healthy. If Mayfield can keep playing his game, and stay healthy, he can become a defensive key for the Islanders moving forward and possibly replace Johnny Boychuk as the #1 defenseman on this team.
Playing with the rookie Devon Toews forces Mayfield to play responsibly in his own end, while allowing him to have fun offensively. This kind of experience will only help Mayfield in the long run, building chemistry with young players, and having a leadership role when the young defensemen, Noah Dobson and Bode Wilde join the league.
Mayfield has been put in a place to succeed by coach Barry Trotz, and its blooming in it. If Mayfield can continue to provide defensive depth, this is a team that can and will make noise coming down the stretch.
The other key difference in the Islanders this year is the quality of their goaltending. You can score all of the goals you want, but if your goalie can’t stop the puck, it isn’t going to matter. This year, the tandem of Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner have been unbelievable for the Isles.
Thomas Greiss has improved tremendously over the past year. If league average goaltending is .910, Greiss is now well above that. He posts a .917 save percentage in 21 games started.
You wouldn’t know it, from looking at Islander’s twitter but the man has stepped up this year in a way that no one saw coming.
But even in the games where Greiss isn’t great, Robin Lehner has been. Getting treatment for his bipolar disorder, and getting out of Buffalo and having a fresh start have been great for Lehner, who boasts a .926 save percentage in 16 games played.
Lehner has been a brick wall when the Islander’s have needed him to be, often because he gets little help defensively when in net, in an odd phenomenon, facing only 88 fewer shots than Greiss in 7 fewer games. Averaging over 30 shots seen per game.
Lehner is the kind of back up a contending team needs, someone that can win more games than they lose when the starter is resting, and can come in and close a game out when their partner or team is struggling. He is being exactly what Lou Lamoriello hired him to be.
So what does this all mean?
it means, don’t count the Islanders out. If there is one thing we’ve learned over the past couple of years, while watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs is the importance of depth scoring and quality goaltending. Everyone has super stars, and you need a lot from them to get to the cup, but its the depth guys that gets you above everyone else, and the New York Islanders just might seem to have the tools to get the job done.
If the Islanders can play the way they’ve been playing, and can grab a playoff spot come April, I think that they could make it far, possibly all the way. And its about time people start talking about it.