There was no bigger surprise team than the Islanders last season, as Barry Trotz took a contract dispute from DC up the Acela and then proved he can turn just about anything into a useful team. But his boss, Nosferatu, blames free agency for the global warming he assuredly doesn’t believe in, and the Isles look like they’re just going to count on running it back again. Will it work? It’s hard to think a Trotz team will ever be bad, but catching lightning twice has eluded just about everyone in history. Let’s learn about the Islanders.
48-27-7 103 points (2nd in Metro)
Won 1st round over PIT, lost second round to Carolina
2.72 GF/G (22nd) 2.33 GA/G (1st)
47.8 CF% (26th) 51.2 xGF% (12th)
14.5 PP% (29th) 79.9 PK% (19th)
Goalies: The Islanders lost one half of their tandem that anchored this team last year, as Robin Lehner toddled off here in July. The Islanders are going to attempt to take the whispers of Trotz and Mitch Korn and apply them to Semyon Varlamov. Varlamov was very up and down in Colorado last season, eventually losing his job to Philip Grubauer. That was kind of his whole career in Denver, where he flashed Vezina form at times and then was one of Jack’s French girls at others. But overall, he’s got a career .915 SV%, and considering how all Trotz teams make it easier on goalies, it would be reasonable to expect some good numbers from him.
He’ll pair with Thomas Greiss, who flourished behind this team last year at .927. He and Lehner had high expected-save-percentages thanks to the ultra defensive system, but both exceeded that in actual save-percentages. Greiss has done this before, but hasn’t been able to back it up. He won’t be asked to carry the load here though, and again, goalies under Trotz rarely shit a chicken unless their hip falls off.
Defense: Again, the exact same crew you remember from last year, though this time with a full season from the promising Devon Toews. They’ll hope for another step from Ryan Pulock, as Nick Leddy really struggled for most of the year to push the play. Scott Mayfield and Adam Pelech are about as solid as you can ask for without doing much you’ll remember. Johnny Boychuck will pair with Leddy as he has for the past five seasons, but time seemed to catch up to him last year. As we cannot hammer enough, this defense gets a lot of support from the forwards, but was somewhat exposed by the speed and possession of the Hurricanes last year. Both Trotz and Lamoriello don’t want much to do with puck-moving d-men here, so they’re lucky in that they don’t have a prime one. Still, in a conference that requires you to get past Carolina or Toronto or Boston or Tampa, it probably takes more than obstinance to do so. Maybe Noah Dobson gets a look? That would be a real stretch.
Forwards: Stop us if you’ve heard this before, but it’s the exact same crew as last year. The only addition to it has been Derick Brassard, or whatever pod person is occupying his body now as he hasn’t been productive in the last three seasons at least. Which leaves Mathew Barzal and his missing T to carry the mail on the top line next to Anders Lee and Josh Bailey. Brock Nelson anchors the second line, and after that it’s a whole bunch of grunts and agriculture. Only one Islander forward managed more than 60 points last year (Barzal) and only three had 20 goals or more. And one of those was Casey Cizikas, who shot nearly 20%, and that’s not going to happen again. The Isles will hope to smother and bore their way to a playoff spot again.
Prediction: It’s not wise to go against a Trotz-led team, but the margins are so thin for this bunch. They limit good chances, even if they don’t limit attempts. There’s just so little scoring here, and if they don’t get water-tight defense, the percentages are going to go against them. Neither Varlamov or Greiss is really capable of taking a full starter’s load at this point, so if one falters the whole system might sink underneath them.
Luckily for the Isles, the division blows hardcore. The Caps and Pens are on the downsides of their cycles, with only the Canes looking like their pivoting up beyond the Isles. The Devils day may yet come, but not this season you wouldn’t think. And you can catch a lot of teams cold in January and February when they can’t locate the fucks to give to work hard enough to deal with a Trotz trap. Still looks short to me, but I said that last year too.