The New York Islanders extended their league-best win streak to eight games Friday with a 5-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Their impressive run places Barry Trotz’s team third in the Metropolitan Division with 18 points — just five shy of division leader Washington Capitals.
Friday’s win served as a microcosm of sorts as to why the Islanders have been so good since the streak started on Oct. 12. Goals from Mathew Barzal, Anders Lee and Josh Bailey pave the way for the team’s solid all-around play, adding quality goaltending from Thomas Greiss, who made 33 saves Friday night.
Let’s take a look at three reasons why the Islanders are standing out during their early-season streak:
Star scorers leading the way
Mathew Barzal, Anders Lee, Josh Bailey and Brock Nelson proved instrumental last year in picking up the slack in the Islanders’ first season without John Tavares; this year, it’s more of the same.
The 22-year-old Barzal leads the Isles in scoring (six goals, four assists) during the eight-game stretch. His powerful, crafty strides in the offensive zone allow him to create goals like the one that opened the scoring against the Lightning on Friday.
As for the others? Lee and Bailey are both scoring at a point-per-game pace during the streak (four goals, four assists each). If that weren’t enough, Nelson isn’t far behind; he’s recorded seven points in the last eight games and holds 10 points on the season.
Trotz’s offense offers a balanced attack with four primary scorers that can best opponents’ defenses on any given night. The blue line has chipped in on the act, too; defensemen Nick Leddy, Devon Toews and Johnny Boychuk each have six points during the team’s streak.
Few power plays, strong penalty kill
New York’s success in the last three weeks has come without the help of the man advantage. The Islanders have only been afforded 12 power plays since Oct. 12 — eight fewer than any other team in the league. They have only scored twice in those 12 chances. On the other end of the spectrum, Trotz’s penalty kill has only been forced out 23 times in the last eight games. Only two teams have been shorthanded less in that time frame.
When the Islanders do play down a skater, the team’s penalty killers — led by Casey Cizikas, Scott Mayfield, Adam Pelech and Cal Clutterbuck — admirably keep the puck out of the net at an 87 percent clip.
Will this pattern last? For the season as a whole, the Islanders carry far better power-play scoring (23.8 percent), but rank last among the league’s 31 teams in opportunities. They score when they get the opportunity, but for a team that ranks in the middle of the pack at five-on-five scoring (2.32 goals per 60 minutes), the Islanders should hope referees grant them more special teams opportunities soon.
Strong tandem goaltending from Thomas Greiss and Semyon Varlamov
Last season’s goalie duo of Greiss and Robin Lehner won the Jennings Trophy as the duo with the fewest goals allowed. This year, the Islanders swapped out Lehner for Varlamov to join Greiss between the pipes, and the results remain consistent for the most part. The two goalies have split starts evenly in New York’s last eight games — and they carry .935 and .937 save percentages in that time period.
Trotz is known for employing a stingy defensive system, but through 12 games this season, the Islanders allow 31.8 shots on net per game — trending toward one of the league’s more porous defenses. It’s a dangerous look for a team that struggles to put the puck on net on the other end of the ice (27.5 shots on goal per game), but for now, the Isles’ goaltending may be the most crucial aspect of its operation.