Remember when everyone was saying that the Islanders wouldn't be able to produce goals without John Tavares in their lineup? I do.
I won't lie, though: I was one of those people. Tavares was the heart and soul of our team for eight years. From the second he was drafted with the first overall pick in the 2009 NHL draft, Tavares was the face of the Islanders franchise. He put up superstar-caliber numbers, turned Matt Moulson into a 30-goal scorer, and brought the Isles their first playoff series victory in over 20 years.
But Tavares has moved on. He's returned home to Toronto where he grew up, teaming up with Auston Matthews to create one of the league's most dynamic offensive duos. JT gave New York everything he had and, although his departure definitely hurts the Islanders franchise, I can't necessarily blame him for deciding to leave.
A new season is now upon us, one where John Tavares isn't donning the blue and orange for the first time in his career. While it's impossible to replace John Tavares, newly-appointed general manager Lou Lamoriello has done his best to provide the Islanders with an opportunity to turn some heads this season.
Lamoriello's first order of action was to hire Barry Trotz as the team's head coach. Trotz, who delivered the Capitals their first Stanley Cup in franchise history last season, is recognized by hockey fanatics as one of the game's great head coaches and will inevitably be elected into the Hall of Fame. Lamoriello also traded for former Islander Matt Martin and signed free agents Valtteri Filppula, Leo Komarov, Tom Kuhnhackl, and Luca Sbisa.
None of these players are guaranteed to dazzle the crowd on a nightly basis, but Lamoriello's acquisitions have proven to be bargains in this young season. Filppula has notched four goals and three assists in his first 11 games, while Komarov has tallied four points and maintains a positive plus/minus rating. Kuhnhackl, who's only appeared in four games thus far, scored his first goal in an Islanders sweater against Pittsburgh, the team currently sitting atop the Metropolitan Division.
Analysts contemplated the negative impact that Tavares' departure would have on New York's top lines. They claimed that Josh Bailey, Anders Lee, and Mathew Barzal would not be able to produce nearly as much offense without JT's presence. These playmakers, however, have developed fluid chemistry with one another, posting numbers through 11 games consistent with their 82 game totals from last season. Regardless of whether their success stems from the tactical guidance of Trotz or a rejuvenated locker room culture, the Islanders have shown that they can succeed in Tavares' absence.
On the defensive end, New York is conceding goals at a much lower rate than last year. The young defensive trio of Scott Mayfield, Adam Pelech, and Ryan Pulock has taken a step in the right direction along with veterans Johnny Boychuk and Thomas Hickey, who seem to have indulged in the Fountain of Youth during this past offseason. Although Nick Leddy remains a liability, the team's blueline has improved drastically from the disaster that it was in years past.
I can't accurately recall the last time the Islanders had a stable goaltending situation. I sometimes have flashbacks of Anders Nilsson and Evgeni Nabokov getting shelled by opposing forwards. For some reason, this year seems different. Sure, Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss don't constitute an intimidating tandem between the pipes, but they're all we have.
Lehner, who was once considered a top goaltending prospect, has been plagued by injuries and mental health issues over the years but has accumulated a respectable 2.45 goals against average in seven starts this season. Greiss has also impressed in net, making six appearances, four of which were starts, while only giving up 10 goals in total.
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As the season moves into November, the Islanders hold second place in the Metro Division with 13 points. New York seems to be hitting its stride, winning three consecutive games away from home while outscoring opponents 14-5 during that span. Despite usually being the NHL's most competitive division, the Metro isn't as strong this season.
The Rangers are tanking, Philadelphia is inconsistent, the Devils and Hurricanes have yet to prove themselves, and the Caps are still recovering from their Stanley Cup hangover. I'm not inferring anything, but if the Islanders want to make a push towards postseason hockey, this may be the year to do so.
Hopefully, the Islanders can keep up the good work. The NHL season is a long, fatiguing process that tests the will and determination of each individual team. The Isles must continue to show that they want to play into late April and May.
I have faith in my team. With Barry Trotz behind the bench and everyone clicking, our potential is immeasurable. Others may not agree with me, but I know it. To the boys in blue and orange: turn my dream into reality.
Let's go, Islanders!