In a cesspool of so many teams in New York, the Islanders represent the only diamond of the bunch.
They improved to 13-3-1 after a 5-4 victory against old friend John Tavares and the Toronto Maple Leafs Wednesday night at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum. They extended their point streak to 12-0-1, and the Penguins recently snapped their 10-game winning streak last week after the Islanders blew a 3-0 lead to take a 4-3 loss to them in overtime.
Looking at the standings and seeing the Islanders at 13-3-1 made me do a double-check to see it’s really happening. The Islanders played well to start the season, but 13-3-1 is great stuff. No one thought they would be this good right now. Maybe they would have turned it up a notch in January or February when teams appear to play at its best heading to the playoffs, but to play well now is what no one expected.
Not even second-year Islanders coach Barry Trotz envisioned this. Neither his players. Remember after 17 games last season, the Islanders were 9-6-2 as they figured out how to play Trotz’s defensive style of hockey, not to mention he was figuring out his players on his new team.
The start of this season turn out to be different from last season. Forget the Islanders record for a second. The players know their roles. They know how to pass the puck, and they know how to be in a position to score. In other words, the players know how to complement each other. There’s such a flow when the guys are on the ice with the puck. This explains why they can roll out four lines and get scoring from any line, a mark of a great team. They know how to make plays on defense.
It’s fun and beautiful to watch. The type of hockey Islanders fans never saw in decades. It does not guarantee much other than playing in the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring, but nevertheless, it beats losing.
Tavares can only wonder what could have been if the Islanders had proper infrastructure during his forgettable time with them. He played for an organization that had a general manager that had no clue how to build a winning roster in Garth Snow. He never played for a coach like Trotz, who brought credibility with winning. The Islanders wasted his talent and time.
Yes, he made the playoffs three times with the Islanders, and he advanced to the second round once in his Islander career, but he played for so many losing teams that quite frankly wasn’t serious about winning the Stanley Cup or even participating in the playoffs.
Obviously, Tavares moved on as he is enjoying life with the Maple Leafs. He is playing in his hometown. He plays for a playoff contender. He works for a franchise that is on Canadian television often.
Still, he has to wonder what it would be like playing for the Islanders when they were contending for Stanley Cups. He probably would have stayed. Most importantly, he would get national recognition, and he would be a beloved figure in town. No doubt his jersey would have been retired in the rafters of the new Belmont Arena for sure, and that’s something that would have meant a lot to him.
Islanders fans moved on without him. A winning Islanders team can make stages of grief as an anomaly going back to last season. Sure fans heckled him last night by saying “We Don’t Need You!”, but talking to Islanders fans, they sure don’t think much about Tavares or what could have been anymore.
The Islanders moved on without Tavares the day he left. They had no time thinking about him since Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello and Trotz just arrived and they had a team to build. The players seemed indifferent that he left mainly he never really connected with them much. He was more to himself.
They proved they can win without Tavares by making the playoffs and advancing to the second round last season. In this young season, they played like they are in the position of making the playoffs.
No one is saying the Islanders can win the Stanley Cup. It’s early to say it right now, but if they can get hot in the spring with some luck and great goaltending by either Thomas Greiss or Semyon Varlamov, maybe they can.
Still, New Yorkers should embrace this Islanders team. It’s rare to see a team in town win. They are entertaining and likable. They keep writing themselves a good story each game.