Following up an impressive 2018-19 season, the upcoming edition of the New York Islanders looks much the same, with little improvement on paper, and some certain question marks surrounding their ability to follow up an appearance in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs with similar success.
First Key Game: October 4, 2019 vs. Washington Capitals
Odds to win the division
5:1 (t-3rd overall) (via Betway)
Is this a bet worth taking?
Considering the Islanders came out of nowhere last season, surprising the NHL with a 103-point, second place finish in the Metropolitan Division (only one point behind Washington), and the league’s lowest goals against (196), it normally would be safe to assume the Isles would challenge for the top spot. However, a much tougher division looms this season, and some experts even think the Brooklyn/Long Island-based New York team could miss the playoffs.
If you’re looking for a high risk, high reward bet, take this one over most others in the division. This Islanders team could surprise again in challenging Washington for the title. Without any significant off-season acquisitions to the forward group, former Caps coach Barry Trotz will again rely on defense and goaltending.
Keys To The Season
Story to watch
Can the Islanders’ goaltending tandem pull off the same miracles as last season? Robin Lehner (.930 SV%, 2.13 GAA) and Thomas Greiss (.927 SV%, 2.28 GAA) shared in the Jennings Trophy honors last season. On paper, Semyon Varlamov‘s contract, career numbers (213-169-50, .916 SV%, 2.68 GAA) and track record as a starting goaltender who typically starts 50-60 games per season would suggest Varlamov to be the team’s number one.
Instead, Trotz has decided to stay the course with both goaltenders splitting time this season in a 1A-1B scenario, going with the hot hand. The strategy worked last season for the Isles, proving goaltending director/coach/genius/messiah Mitch Korn is the best in the business. For Varlamov, mid-level success over 400+ games in the NHL, coupled with the fact he had a less-than-stellar campaign in Colorado last year, a timeshare in between the pipes with Korn’s guidance could be the best situation possible.
Player to watch
Jordan Eberle. Under Trotz’ defense-first system, it was clear earlier in the 2018-19 season the 29-year old right winger struggled to adjust. Having been a 0.75 points per game producer throughout his 7-year career with Edmonton, Eberle’s second season with the Islanders saw a stat line of 19-18-37 in 78 games, a career-low of 0.47 points per game.
However, Eberle’s offensive outburst at the end of the regular season (Five of his 19 goals came in the last seven regular season games), and his stellar performance against Pittsburgh in round one (4 G, 2 A in 4-game sweep) earned him a new contract on the Island, with another chance to prove which Jordan Eberle he can be.
A top-6 forward OR a giant step forward from the young guns in the lineup. Coaching tactics and solid goaltending alone could get this team to the playoffs again. However, success for the 2019-20 Islanders won’t be defined by exceeding low expectations (as was the case last season). Despite sweeping Sidney Crosby‘s Penguins in the first round of the playoffs, the team then couldn’t find the back of the net against Carolina, and were dealt their own broom in round two.
The Islanders’ 2.74 goals per game was tied for 7th-worst in the league. Of the teams which participated in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, only Dallas (2.58 GPG) had a worse offensive record. In addition, New York’s power play (in)efficiency (15.08%) ranked third-lowest in the NHL.
This summer, Isles’ GM Lou Lamoriello threw every dollar he could at Artemi Panarin, but to no avail. Instead, Derick Brassard joins the offense in need of a career revival, and the Islanders’ defensive system can hide Brassard’s production inconsistencies.
The off-season addition of assistant coach Jim Hiller should help, but his weapons arsenal isn’t quite what he had in Toronto. Mat Barzal, Anthony Beauvillier and Josh Bailey have had one season under Trotz, and now is the time for the Isles younger corps to balance the offensive production with the defensive structure.
If the New York Islanders were an animal, what would they be?
For the most part, it’s “bees-nest” as usual for Barry Trotz and the Isles. With a solid defensive structure, the hive is tough to eliminate. Always “bee” weary when going on the offensive, “bee”-cause the sting on the counter-attack can “bee” deadly.
Please excuse the overuse of “bee” puns.
[You could say there’s a real buzz about this team – Ed].