Graziano: Islanders Have Proven Themselves To Be Among Favs To Win Conference

Only Capitals Have More Wins

Andy Graziano
December 20, 2019 - 11:16 am
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"They're for sure one of the best teams in the league. For us to stay level with them all night says something about this group," Islanders center Mathew Barzal said Thursday night after a 3-2 shootout win in Boston over the powerful Bruins.

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“It was a very important game to bounce back and play our game. We did a great job today,” added goaltender Semyon Varlamov, referencing how the team bounced back after an 8-3 drubbing at the hands of the Nashville Predators just two nights earlier.

It was Varlamov’s second-period “save of the year,” per coach Barry Trotz, and a terrific team defensive effort that included a 4-of-5 night on the penalty kill that led the Islanders to their seventh win in 10 games. This after a brief spell of “blah” in which they went 0-2-1. Yup, 0-2-1. That’s about as far as Trotz will allow them to go. New York still has not lost more than two consecutive games in regulation since the Stanley Cup champion took over.

So, where are we at the 40% completion mark of the 2019-20 season? How about 23-8-2, good for fourth in the league, but with games in hand on the three teams above them -- two on Washington, three on Boston and St. Louis. Points percentage? Second at 73%, behind only the Capitals’ 76%. All this with an offense ranked 26th in goals for, but first in goals against. If defense truly does win championships, the Islanders have to be considered up there with the big boys.

 Islanders center Mathew Barzal celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal against the Bruins during a shootout on Dec. 19, 2019, at TD Garden in Boston.
Winslow Townson/USA TODAY

When it comes to explaining how New York has gotten here, throw analytics out the window. They cannot properly account for the insane impact Trotz has had on every member of the 23-man roster he suits up each game. Forget about getting props from national outlets. The Islanders don’t care about that, only results. The more under the radar they continue to fly, the more surprised people are going to be.

When you look at the Eastern Conference, specifically the Atlantic Division, and size up the teams, you have to consider the Islanders one of the favorites at this moment in time, no? How can you not? How much more do they have to prove? Only one team has won more games. One. That’s it. And, as mentioned previously, New York still lags behind in games played.

Varlamov has allowed only seven goals in his past four starts, beating the Golden Knights, Lightning, Sabres and Bruins in the process, not exactly slouches in the offense department. Thomas Greiss did not play well against Nashville but still owns a .924 save percentage. Will Saturday’s game be the beginning of a run for one of the two, who have alternated starts all season? Whatever candy “Korn” these two are eating, feed them more of it, please. (See what I did there?)

HO-SANG RETURNS, BUT FOR HOW LONG?

The prodigal son returns. Joshua Ho-Sang, according to team president and general manager Lou Lamoriello, asked back in to the Islanders organization with a phone call to assistant GM Chris Lamoriello. After what I’m sure were some tense conversations, the forward is back with the AHL Bridgeport Sound Tigers, playing meaningful hockey once again.

What this means going forward could be two things. It could be that Lamoriello developed a soft spot, maybe temporarily, and accepted Ho-Sang’s gesture, deciding it was in the organization’s best interest to give him yet another shot at an NHL career. Call me skeptical. It could also be that Josh and his agent realized that the best way to get traded is to … I don’t know … play?

General managers talk all the time and receive reports daily. They know about the history between the two sides, maybe some knowing more than others. That is likely the reason that Lamoriello, if he even really tried, could not find a taker in a trade for Ho-Sang and even dangled him on waivers with nobody taking the bait.

I still don’t believe that Ho-Sang has a future with the Islanders. I do think he can be a productive player in the right system. A system that doesn’t stress so much defensive responsibility from their forwards, however. As long as Trotz is at the helm, that will never be the situation here. Just as we, in our professional lives, are not the right fit everywhere, the same rule applies.

But, hey, that’s just one man’s opinion, never the rule.

Happy holidays. Thanks as always for reading in 2019. Best wishes from my family to yours.

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