Ok, I'm done... have a great weekend.
In all seriousness boys and girls, this is perhaps the best November in the history of our New York Islanders (not including Novembers in which we were still buzzing from a shiny new Cup banner). As it stands right now, the New York Islanders are 10-2 in the month of November. Let me say that one more time so that you can absorb this: The ISLANDERS, are 10-2 in the month of November. It is amazing to me that so much can change over the course of a year.
Photo Credit: Getty Images
When a fan of the Islanders turned the calendar from October to November, it usually meant turning off your televisions, shutting down your twitter, and ignoring any notification on Facebook from your Ranger fan buddies. Last November, the Isles were 4-10-1. We went on a 10 game losing streak, which lasted from November 19th to December 10th, nearly a month. It was the return of the dreaded no-win-November. Many had joked that we had made the playoffs in 2012-2013 because we didn't have to play in November (lock-out), and last season did very little to prove otherwise. Let's take a look at the last few Novembers for the New York Islanders:
2008-2009: 8-6-1 (Yes, it's been 6 years since we had a winning record in November)
Photo Credit: Getty Images
So that combines for 23-36-9, 55 points, over the last five Novembers. We have over a third of those points, and nearly half the wins in this November alone. Take a second and really think about that. We are talking about the last five Novembers combined. Make no mistake about it, the page has turned, and this is a dawn of a new day for our Islanders.
The Islanders have four players who are scoring nearly a point per game: Tavares 21 points, Nelson 20 points, Okposo 19 points, Strome 17 points (and is a +10), each in 22 games. Oh and by the way, the average age of these four players is 23 and a half, can you say longevity? It also seems like after many years of fillers, we finally have a legitimate starting goaltender. Jaroslav Halak has hit his stride, going undefeated in his last seven starts. So far this season, his record is 11-4-0, and his 2.21 GAA and .923 SV%, top his career numbers (2.37 GAA, .918 SV%, respectively). We finally have a defensive core with a real top four. Hamonic and Lubo seem to be back and healthy (knock on wood), and the additions have Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk have propelled this team to a new level.
Today, we should all be thankful for Garth Snow, and the additions he made this offseason. Of course, we just mentioned Leddy and Boychuk. Leddy is the puckmover this team has lacked for many years, and as a 23 year old RFA to be, you can bank on him being a New York Islander for a long time. Johnny Boychuk is showing the Boston Bruins why NOT putting him on the Power Play was a mistake. He can stand you up at the blueline, win board battles, and makes a good first pass out of the zone to start rushes the other way. While he is a UFA in the summer of 2015 and is likely to test the Free Agent market, he has gone on record saying that he is willing to discuss an extension to stay with the Islanders moving forward. He believes the team will be strong moving forward, likes the idea of playing in Brooklyn, and to say he has chemistry with Nick Leddy would be an understatement.
Former Toronto Maple Leaf teammates Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolay Kulemin seemed to be picking up where they left off, for the most part, in Toronto. Grabovski has opened up the ice surface for his teammates, giving them excellent opportunities (Brock Nelson agrees). When he has had the puck on his stick, he's finished the job (4 goals, 5 assists, +5 in 19 games). By the way, he has not committed one penalty yet this season, which is huge for the Isles, considering how rough their penalty kill was last season, and even through the beginning of this season. Nikolay Kulemin has hit his stride playing on the first line with John Tavares and Kyle Okposo. He has 4 goals and 11 assists, and most of those goals have come in the last few weeks. His physical play, defensive play, and speed have been something that the Islanders had been lacking with Michael Grabner, whether he was on the ice or not.
Josh Bailey, welcome back! 7 points in 14 games. We are happy to see you shooting that puck again. It's a shame that Bailey was injured when he was, as it probably hurt his momentum. What was amazing though in all of that, was how well the Islanders played, despite having him out of the lineup. In fact, it is extraordinarily encouraging. What this tells you is that this team will find ways to win in the face of adversity. It is not the only adversity we have faced this season, and due to the physical grind of an 82 game campaign, it is likely not the last. Late October saw a three game losing streak, which most people, and admittedly myself, were left saying, "Here we go again". 11 games later and we are 10 wins and 20 points richer.
Photo Credit: Associated Press
There is probably no better fourth line in hockey right now than the line of Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck. They are putting points on the board, even on the Power Play. They are forcing opponents to make mistakes, throwing the bodies around, and wearing teams out. This is good news, especially for Martin. He was in the doghouse of far too many Islanders fans who had forgotten why they had loved him so many years ago. Similarly to Bailey, welcome back Matt. Let's not forget about the third member of the "kid" line, Anders Lee. The young forward faced his own adversity, when he was unable to make the team out of the pre-season. He went back to Bridgeport disappointed, but determined, and it wasn't long before the talented winger found his way back to the Old Barn. He scored his first goal of the year in late October against the Stars, and has found the net four more times since then. He also has one assist. With a full season ahead of him, there's no reason to believe why he will not get it going, picking up where he left off last season. He's feeling it, and you can tell.
Frans Nielsen, what else can you say about a guy who had a career year last year? How about the fact that he too, seems like he is picking up where he left off. Is he on pace to put up the points he did last season? As of now, not quite, but that is still not a bad thing. His 12 points in 22 games are par for the course with him, but where he is contributing most of all is in the shootouts. He and Kyle Okposo have almost single-handedly gotten this team a much needed 10 points in shootouts alone. Every point will count this year. The Islanders are tied for first place in the Metropolitan Division, along with the Pittsburgh Penguins (who at this point also have a game in hand).
Photo Credit: Getty Images
Yes, we are tied for first with the Pittsburgh Penguins. We are over a quarter of the way through the year, and frankly, it is OK for us now to get excited. Admittedly, in any sport, you tend to be cautiously optimistic when your team gets off to a good start. So many teams are hot early, then tailspin. This team is certainly used to it. Every October we look like contenders, but then November exposes us as pretenders. Make no mistake about it, this team is now a contender, and no longer a pretender. So enjoy your turkey today. Enjoy the presence of your friends and loved one. Enjoy slipping into those elastic band sweatpants by 8 PM. Happy bargain hunting tomorrow, but make sure you get your goodies early, so that you can get home to watch the Islanders at 5 PM EST as they take on the Washington Capitals, live from our nation's capital on MSG (hey, don't the Rangers usually play on that channel?)