The New York Islanders continue to creep up the standings as they are no longer in last place. They are in 12th, while which is not good, is better than where they were a week ago, 16th.
With a recent win over the Philadelphia Flyers in Philadelphia, there seems to be a buzz surrounding the team that finally this team has what it takes to get over the hump and be a playoff contender.
They are still 10 points out of a playoff spot, but if the team can continue to win games, they can close that gap, especially since teams they are facing such as the Buffalo Sabres and Florida Panthers have played poorly recently.
Without a doubt, the team is playing much better the past few weeks and they are finding ways to win games.
It is all happening because of a few key reasons.
Since December 29, Nabokov has been 8-3 between the pipes and has only allowed three or more goals three times during that stretch, two of those being those Ducks and Coyotes games. This includes his most recent victory against the Philadelphia Flyers, where Nabokov stopped 40 of the 41 shots he faced.
There seems to be a situation developing though with the return of Al Montoya. However, I don't see any way you can dethrone Nabokov as the starter with the way he has been playing of late.
In what seems to have been the first line changes head coach Jack Capuano has made in his tenure as head coach of the New York Islanders, one line has been outstanding.
Outstanding might be an understatement. The first line of Matt Moulson, John Tavares and Kyle Okposo has become one of the best scoring lines in all of the NHL.
The downside to this is that all other lines have struggled to score. The scoring for the first line has been so good though, that it is hard to notice how poorly the other lines have played.
Before the lines were switched, Okposo had 11 points through __ games. In the 13 games with the new line, Okposo has matched his production with six goals and five assists. He has always had the talent, but one can only wonder why it took Capuano so long to try putting Okposo along side Tavares on the same line.
Something may need to be done to get more production out of the secondary lines, but this line has clicked so well that it can't be touched, especially right now with the Isles playing well.
In the past month John Tavares has taken a step from a real good player to a NHL superstar. Tavares is now riding a 11-game point streak where he has scored 19 points during that 11-game streak, including six goals.
Tavares has improved in every aspect of the game, but where it may have shown the most is his skating. Tavares worked hard on improving his skating over the summer, and it has shown in a number of ways and he was rewarded by being named to his first NHL All-Star Game.
During this recent stretch where the Islanders have played well, it is hard to pick out one defenseman that has played poorly.
All six of the defensemen that the Islanders have used at the very least have played solidly. Players such as Dylan Reese, Steve Staios and Mark Eaton don't look lost like they did earlier in the year. Meanwhile, guys like Mark Streit and Travis Hamonic have taken their game to another level.
Another reason the defense has looked so good recently is the goaltending which I've previously mentioned.
Over the past few weeks the Islanders' power play and penalty kill have become one of the best in the league.
The Islanders currently rank fifth in the entire NHL on the power play at 19.7 percent.
The penalty kill might be the best in the league right now. The Islanders have only allowed one power-play goal in the month of December, that coming on a goal from Scott Hartnell during the first of the two matchups against the Flyers in that month.
The Islanders rank eighth in the penalty kill for the season.
It is easy for Islander fans to get excited with the team playing very well during an extended stretch for the first time this season. However, let's not anoint them Stanley Cup contenders yet. There are a lot of things this team needs to improve on before we can call them a playoff contender.
One has to wonder how this goaltending situation is going to be handled.
Al Montoya was playing well before he got hurt. Nabokov has played lights out the past month. Capuano has managed the goaltenders very poorly this season, and one can hope that trend won't continue, but I don't think anyone knows what is the right way to go about the situation. The right move seems to be what Capuano is doing right now, and that is riding out the hot hand in Nabokov.
Secondly, the Isles need to utilize Nino Niederreiter.
I'm sure myself and many others feel that "El Nino" can make a scoring impact. What others are also sure of is: That isn't going to happen playing on a line with Marty Reasoner and Tim Wallace. Niederreiter has been skating well and finally looks as good on the ice as he did before the concussion he suffered against the Dallas Stars, so it is time to think of him as an offensive weapon out there.
Lastly, and most importantly, the team needs secondary scoring.Whether it is line changes or a trade for a player outside the organization, the team needs scoring elsewhere, other than the power play or the first line.
That line is eventually going to hit a cold streak. They all do, even lines as good as the Vancouver Canucks' with the Sedin twins falter once in a while. Since there seems to be a lack of scoring from other lines, if that first line of the Islanders gets cold, it is going to get ugly, real ugly.
If the Isles can continue to play well and make some improvements, not only can they sneak in to the playoffs, they can do it with a chance of an intriguing Rangers vs. Islanders first-round matchup.