Graziano: Assessing The Islanders At The All-Star Break

Plus Midseason Awards

Andy Graziano
January 23, 2020 - 4:34 pm

Sit back. Crack open your favorite beverage. Go ahead, grab one of those hot wings, even a mozzarella stick. It’s been 49 games of a roller-coaster season watching the New York Islanders, a season distinctly cut in half with an ultra-sharp blade. Now that the All-Star break and CBA bye-week is upon us, you deserve it. Maybe even more so than the players do.

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Some of the players will head for the Caribbean with their significant others and enjoy some fun in the sun. Others will stay or head home before resuming hockey activities next week. Us? We’re left here to analyze what we’ve seen, maybe figure out where we might be going and complain about Derek Jeter not receiving one more Hall of Fame vote.

It was Nov. 21 and New York had just defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins, 4-3. Things were fine in Islanders country. The team was 16-3-1, having just finished a 15-0-1 run, scoring 3.35 goals per game, allowing only 2.45.

Then came the ‘lull’ - or was it really a lull? They would lose their next three on a California trip to San Jose, Anaheim and Los Angeles by a combined score of 9-2. It would set off a chain of results that has everyone associated with the organization scratching their collective heads. ‘Just who is this team, exactly?’

The Islanders celebrate after a goal by right wing Jordan Eberle against the New Jersey Devils on Jan. 7, 2020, at the Prudential Center.
Ed Mulholland/USA TODAY Images

Over the past 29 games, it’s been mediocre hockey that would not even have this team in the playoff picture had it not been for all those deposits they made to the points bank earlier in the season. They sit only four points clear of being out of the playoffs, looking up at a wild card spot. This run of 13-12-4, while averaging 2.62 goals per game (2.43 if you take the ridiculous Detroit game out) and allowing 2.86 is threatening to sabotage what once looked like a second magical Barry Trotz miracle.

Even when they win, as they did 4-2 Monday night, finally defeating the New York Rangers, they seem to lose. Scott Mayfield’s ill-timed ‘spear’ and the subsequent swan dive by Brendan Lemieux led to the Rangers getting themselves back into the game on the power play, before the officials tried to compound the Islanders misery with a never-called, ridiculous delay of game penalty. Post-game, Barry Trotz sounded less than pleased, explaining he had benched star forward and leading scorer Mathew Barzal, even though the ‘eye-test’ didn’t show much to warrant.

Oct 28, 2018; Raleigh, NC, USA; New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz (right) looks on from behind the players bench against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

What can be done about it? Trade prospects look less than exciting to say the least, the Islanders system is littered with questionable talent not exactly on a general manager’s wish list and they could be facing a salary cap crunch this summer with contracts due for Barzal, Ryan Pulock and Devon Toews. The Leo Komarov deal that Lou handed the slow-footed winger isn’t helping matters much. New York has $6.5 million dollars tied up the next two seasons in Leo and Cal Clutterbuck. At least Clutterbuck doesn’t have a no-trade clause.

With all that said, it’s time for some midseason awards as we await the Islanders next game, which won’t be until next Saturday, Feb. 1 against Vancouver.

MVP: Brock Nelson. Nelson has been a rock this year for New York, his second under Trotz and he is proving quickly that 2018-19, when he played his best two-way hockey of his career, was no fluke.

Nelson now has five 20-goal seasons in his seven in the league, just missing in 2017-18 (19). His defensive game has improved ten-fold and he is shooting more (2.71 shots per game vs 2.21 last season). Also has a career-high 50.9% winning percentage on faceoffs. He makes less than James van Riemsdyk. And Kevin Hayes. And Nico Hischier. And Derek Stepan. And Paul Stastny. You get the point.

Islanders center Brock Nelson

Best Game: This was a lot harder than I anticipated, but I’m going with the December 19, 3-2 road win over the Boston Bruins. The Islanders played a clean, tough, playoff style game on the road against a team that they do not match up well against. After allowing Torrey Krug to tie the game on a 5-on-3 power play early in the third, New York withstood a 16-9 shot disadvantage the rest of the frame and played an entertaining overtime before Semyon Varlamov stopped Brad Marchand to win it.

Worst Game: I think what’s scary about this category is that the two finalists both happened over the past week or so, late in the 29-game stretch of inconsistency. But I have to go with the 6-4 loss to Washington at home on January 18. New York took a seemingly commanding 4-1 lead to the third period and watched it all blow up in their face, allowing the Caps and Alex Ovechkin to storm all the way back, scoring five times in the period. Lazy defending from both the forwards and defense, sloppy neutral zone play and turnovers plagued New York much worse than Devon Toews mocking Evgeni Kuznetzov’s goal celebration.

It’s crazy to think there are only 33 games remaining in the regular season, but that’s where we are. Thirty-three games in 63 days to be exact, with 17 on the road and four sets of back-to-backs. It will not get any easier for a team that, for right now anyway, is not looking even close to being playoff ready.

Follow Andy on Twitter: @AndyGraz_WFAN