The Islanders have shown that they are capable of being responsible in their own end of the ice. Any NHL coach will tell you that team defense is the key to success at the NHL level. Right now the Islanders are minimizing their defensive mistakes which this season have been glaring at times. Opposing forwards are not being given time to create quality chances in front of Evgeni Nabokov.
The defense is also keeping the puck to the outside of the slot where offensive chances are few and far between. Giving up outside shots 25 times a game as opposed to ten quality chances in the slot is going to be the key for this team moving forward into the second half of the season.
The offense has shown signs of being a bit more balanced as Head Coach Jack Capuano has chosen to break up his most effective line of John Tavares, Matt Moulson and P.A. Parenteau. Tavares and Moulson are now teamed with struggling but talented right wing Kyle Okposo. The results so far have been good as Okposo has managed to replace Parenteau's passing ability by giving Tavares more room on the ice using his size to draw players to him. Tavares has responded by creating many more scoring opportunities for himself and his line mates.
Parenteau, who in my opinion should be signed to a multi-year contract has played very well with Frans Nielsen and Brian Rolston. He also is still teamed with Tavares and Moulson on the top Islander power play unit.
Will the Islanders make a run at a playoff spot or finish well out of one?
The rest of the Islander forwards have shown signs of life with Josh Bailey still looking to define his role with the team. Bailey is a perplexing player to watch. At times he can look like he will fulfill the promise as he has shown in short stints. The problem is these flashes of brilliance are followed by long periods of maddening inconsistency and poor decision making. More experience will serve him well.
Matt Martin is growing as a player and given some more time can really turn into a player the Islanders need badly. Its one thing to skate around and simply bang bodies all game. Its another to bang bodies, agitate the opponent, score a few goals here and there and contribute at all facets of the game. Martin has the tools to become a fine power forward in the NHL.
Michael Grabner has been hampered with a few injuries here and there slowing him down at times. Once healed he should return to being the weapon he was last season.
In goal Evgeni Nabokov has stabilized the position with his solid play over the past two weeks. The difference now is the team in front of him is minimizing the high quality scoring chances against. Al Montoya remains out with a concussion has as of last report has not even resumed skating. Rick DiPietro is traveling with the team to Carolina but it is very doubtful he will get the nod over Nabokov.
The goals for the Islanders moving forward this year are to keep the offensive chances of the opponent to a minimum. Nabokov's goaltending should be enough to keep them competitive in every game as long as he stays healthy.
As far as goals for second half of this season, is a playoff berth still a plausible goal? As anything with the Islanders there are a lot of "ifs" attached. They currently sit last in the Eastern Conference nine points behind the Winnipeg Jets for the final playoff spot. In front of the Islanders blocking their path to that spot are the talented but underachieving Washington Capitals, Buffalo Sabres, Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning.
Despite that fact the Islanders chances could be boosted by the fact that there are only three points separating fifth from eighth place in the East. Maybe that is enough if the Islanders can put together a solid stretch of ten games to minimize the distance between themselves and the coveted eighth playoff spot.
The Islanders can either make the second half of the season an exciting chase or another lost season. Which way do yo think it will go?