The Calgary Flames are headed to Uniondale to take on the New York Islanders. The Islanders are in fighting for first place in the metropolitan division and have gotten a good deal of attention from the hockey media with their surprise start. We sat down with Lighthouse Hockey's... uh... me... to get more information on the team.
MS&Gme: The New York Islanders are a bit of a surprise in the east. Many people considered them a fringe playoff team. How have they done it?
LHHme: The Islanders really went for it this offseason with a bunch of moves and that increased their possession numbers a ton. Last year they were a sub-.500 possession team. Now they're top three in just about every possession category. A lot of dead weight from that team was cast aside - Players like Andrew MacDonald left, Eric Boulton has barely played, Radek Martinek retired, Matt Carkner has been out with an injury and younger players like Micheal Halmo and Kevin Czuzcman (pronounced "Churchman") were are out of the lineup with improvements. That's lead to a lot of success
MS&Gme: Would you say that the team doesn't have flaws?
LHHme: I wouldn't exactly say that. Their penalty killing is the worst in the league by a decent margin. They hired Greg Cronin to work the penalty kill and it's just awful. They use an odd diamond kind of strategy which too often turns into a straight line running perpendicular with the goal line and guys wind up open on the sides for easy shots. You can read about it Here.
In addition to that, the goaltending hasn't exactly been stellar this season. Jaroslav Halak has been on a downward spiral and now ranks 21st out of all starting goalies in even strength save percentage at 91.94. His backup Chad Johnson started off terribly and is at 89.95 percent. The team as a whole ranks 23rd in even strength save percentage and 27th across all scenarios.
Oh, and ask us about our two goal leads.
MS&Gme: The Islanders added some big names in the offseason which is a huge part of why they're at right now. How have those additions payed off?
LHHme: For the most part all of them have been huge additions. Nick Leddy leads the team in possession, Johnny Boychuk leads the team in goal differential and has become quite the fan favorite with his slap shots on the power play, Mikail Grabovski is the second best forward in relative Corsi trailing only John Tavares, and Nikolay Kulemin is tied for the league lead in shorthanded points. Just about the only one that faltered was the signing of Cory Conacher, but that was to a cheap two-way contract and most people felt that he wouldn't be long for the team once the other additions were made. The team stuck with him for a bit too long though.
MS&G: What have been the biggest pieces for the Islanders this season?
LHHme: Obviously Tavares is the biggest piece as he leads the team in scoring and the forwards in possession. From there it would be really hard to point anybody out. The rookies Anders Lee and Ryan Strome have been phenomenal, the duo of Leddy and Boychuk has been outstanding, both Josh Bailey and Strome are top fifteen players in even strength points per minute, a lot of things have clicked with the exception of the penalty killing and the goaltending.
MS&Gme: Flames fans can be rather fervent in hoping that a certain player or players get shipped out. Is there anybody on the Islanders that seems to draw the ire of the fans?
LHH: Brian Strait. He is dead last on the team with a negative eight percent in relative Corsi. He seems to make a lot of mistakes that are easy to point out by the fans. He's also the only player on the team to play in over ten games where the team is negative in possession with him on the ice. He's just not very good at hockey. You can read more about him here. The fact that there was an entire article written about a seventh defenseman tells you all you need to know.
In addition to that, many people on the team don't like Bailey despite his point totals. He's been above average in possession and has put up points, but that hasn't mattered. He is not a good power play guy and many hold that against him, but really for his salary he's quite serviceable.
MS&Gme: Finally, what are the biggest weak spots for the Islanders?
LHHme: Outside of the penalty killing, Strait, and the goaltending there haven't been many weak spots. Even the fourth line has carried positive possession numbers and are getting it done. Ideally an upgrade can be performed at the fourth line center spot. Casey Cizikas has been a bad possession guy for years and is basically a known quantity and he's a terrible penalty killer to boot, though he does win faceoffs. Adding a good to great penalty killer to help out while still winning said faceoffs would probably go a long way.
A lot of people would like to see a backup goalie added. James Reimer's name comes up a lot in conversation, but his numbers have hardly been stellar this year and he probably wouldn't be worth the cost. Others have mentioned Ben Scrivens and Keith Kinkaid is a local favorite. Ultimately it's hard to see any of those moves getting done.