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Graziano: Things To Ponder As Islanders Hit Break

Andy Graziano
January 23, 2019 - 1:38 pm
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For the New York Islanders, they have not been ONE story this season, they are THE story. After an 80-point season and a second consecutive year on the sidelines watching the NHL playoffs after the team allowed 296 goals on the year. President and general manager Lou Lamoriello and head coach Barry Trotz have turned things around in a big way, and they've done so quite quickly, much quicker than anyone could have reasonably expected. 

The Metropolitan division leaders hit the break, and subsequently, their bye week, with a record of 29-15-5, allowing 122 goals against, which leads the NHL. With 15 wins in their last 19 games, New York has put themselves in pole position for a playoff spot come April.

Here are my things to ponder during the extended vacation.

-The Islanders have captured 64 percent of possible points through 49 games. If they were to play .500 the rest of the way, winning 33 of 66 points left in the season, they would finish with 96 points, putting them in the playoffs based on prior year averages. Now, of course, that’s not how you want to finish, and one team could get hot, throwing the law of averages out the window, but it's worth mentioning.

-How good has Scott Mayfield been? The contract extension he signed was loudly criticized by the fan base, but he has arguably been the Islanders most consistent defenseman all season. Now, that contract looks like a bargain.

-Devon Toews has been exceptional since his recall from Bridgeport, and there is no reason to think he will be spending any regular time back there again. He seems to have had no trouble at all, from day one, with the pace of the NHL compared to the AHL. And that’s saying a lot, since the one thing newcomers always mention as being the biggest difference between the two is the raw speed of the game.

MORE: Graziano: Islanders Riding Wave Of Intangibles Up Standings

-Special teams are still struggling, and even with the scorching pace of the past 20 games, it needs to be a focus area heading into the final third. We have seen poor special teams sink teams before, and this isn't looking like an exception. The Scott Gomez led powerplay is misfiring at 17 percent, below the league average of 20 percent. In the playoffs, when the penalties are scarcer, it makes a big difference in outcome.

-The Islanders will face 20 different opponents in their final 33 games with a combined record of 494-391-97, 10 of those teams are currently in playoff position. Their schedule includes three meetings with the Blue Jackets and two with the Capitals. They have to come out of this nine-day break strong, and that is going to be a challenge, as their very first game is against the 37-10-2 Lightning.

-There is definitely something to Josh Bailey’s game that hasn’t been right the past month or so. He has been looking slow to the puck on some occasions and seems to be gripping his stick a little tight, he does still have 3-3-6 in his past ten games, but he doesn’t seem to be as energetic as he usually is. Here's hoping the break is his cure.

-Anthony Beauvillier is playing first-line minutes with Mathew Barzal, but only has 12-7-19 in 48 games. Sure, that’s a 20-goal pace and would be his second consecutive season reaching that number, but it’s his consistency that has to improve. With only one goal in his last 16 games, he still has taken 44 shots over that span (2.75 per game), so you hope it’s just bad luck rather than a trend.

-At the break, you could easily make the case for two Islanders winning awards: Robin Lehner for Vezina and Barry Trotz for Jack Adams. Lehner could be hurt by the fact he has shared time with Thomas Greiss (27 GP to 26 GP), but his 2.02 and .931 numbers are something to take very seriously. Trotz is a shoe-in. Right now, he is as close to automatic as it gets.

-Monday, February 25 is the NHL trade deadline, and to be perfectly honest, nobody knows what Lou Lamoriello is thinking of doing. Sure, his past indicates he could be an early buyer, with his team possibly looking to replicate what the Golden Knights did last season. Most fans would agree they are tired of stockpiling draft picks that are a 50/50 shot to pan out. But the reality is that the market is still very expensive, and it remains to be seen who is made available on the rental front. I still feel Lamoriello would rather acquire someone with term, but opportunities to add depth at center or defense should not be ignored.

MORE: Trotz Beginning To Change Culture For Islanders

-As far as the Islanders are concerned, I still believe Anders Lee will sign an extension (perhaps during the break?) and Jordan Eberle should remain an Islander through the break, even though the team will likely lose him for nothing to unrestricted free agency. Brock Nelson, who has been superb in a two-way role to date, is a question mark. Teuvo Teravainen just signed an extension in Carolina for five years and $5.4 million AAV, which should be somewhat of a measuring stick for his agency, Octagon Sports. I’ve not heard much in the way of chatter between the two.

Enjoy the break. Before you know it (nine days to be exact) the team will be back on the ice. What happens after that? That’s up to a myriad of factors, all out of our control. All we can do is sit back and watch it all unfold. Oh, and we can react. You know we’ll react.

Follow Andy on Twitter: @AndyGraz_WFAN