"We have a lot of respect for that team. They work hard and are extremely well-coached. Teams talk a lot about working hard, but I don't think you can say that for every team in this league. The Islanders do. There's a reason five of our last seven games against them have gone to overtime." Brooks Laich - Washington Capitals after beating the Islanders 3-2 in overtime on October 24
With football and basketball season underway, the average New York sports fan is preoccupied with the Jets, Giants, or Knicks. Add in the Yankees in the World Series and the already lowered view of hockey in New York is lowered. Now add the usual exposure the Rangers receive being the team in the city and it leaves the Islanders as a pretty unnoticed team.
But a recent run of six games without regulation defeat and four straight wins and the Islanders have quietly put themselves in the top eight of the Eastern Conference at the end of tonight's play.
A young team mixed with aged veterans they were viewed as a team whose veterans would serve as mentors until the March deadline when they would be dealt for draft picks. Though that may happen if things don't pan out, the fact is that the young players are showing signs of improvement.
They have all adopted well to coach Scott Gordon's system which provides constant pressure on the forecheck and it has led to mistakes by the opponents' defenseman. Giveaways by both Capitals defenseman Mike Green and Buffalo Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers leading directly to goals by Richard Park.
The system also leads to sloppy clearing which prolongs the forecheck and allows the Islanders to maintain a cycle in the offensive end for prolonged periods of time. The one problem is the physical demand which may be problematic towards the end of the season.
The young players, headlined by number one overall draft pick John Tavares, are all showing progress. Kyle Okposo has been making more aggressive power forward moves towards the goal and scoring. Josh Bailey has been showing his willing to shoot and develop his over play-making ability.
Tavares has been consistant averaging just under a point a game. Jeff Tambellini has shown a scoring touch that has eluded him for the past two years and has brought him from potential NHL reject to tied with Matt Moulson for the team lead in goals with six.
The pleasant surprise is the aforementioned Matt Moulson who has been on a line with Tavares and Okposo. He has been the finisher for that line and is showing that he is deserving of his spot on the number one line for the future.
The test comes up now for the Islanders as nine of their next ten games are on the road as they face tough teams like the Capitals, Sabres, New Jersey Devils, and Boston Bruins, plus a trip to Minnesota and St. Louis to face the Wild and Blues, respectively.
The Islanders have shown that they can play with the big boys of the Eastern Conference already hence the quote and forcing both the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins and the Montreal Canadiens to overtime and beating the Capitals in Washington last week.
If the Islanders have a solid road trip and continue their current performance...then it is time to notice the Islanders.