Forget most of what you’ve read about the Islanders this season.
Watch them play.
Note that five of their six top defensemen and their No. 1 goalie have missed a combined 65 games already. Joey MacDonald, with 14 NHL starts before this season, has started 14 of the 18 games. He has been outstanding (7-6-2, 2.68, .915) filling in for Rick DiPietro.
At 4-9-2, the Islanders were not playing nearly as poorly as their record. Now at 7-9-2, they are just starting to get confident—and healthy.
Low expectations plus an exciting brand of effective hockey could make for an enjoyable and satisfying season. The Islanders should have 3-4 more wins at this point, and they seem determined to make up for their lapses. The penalty killing unit ranks eighth in the NHL, and the Isles lead the league in blocked shots.
You’re about to ask what I’m smoking if I think this team can be any better than 28th overall. So I’ll point out that there are problems. The team still seems to always pay full price for miscues in its own end—whether the bill comes right away or four passes later.
It also has the maddening habit of not clearing the puck completely when given the opportunity to relieve pressure (see those four blown multi-goal, third-period leads), and top to bottom, the individual offensive talent does not compare to most teams, leading to an inconsistent power play that puts extra pressure on the defense and goaltending.
Kids like Jeff Tambellini and Kyle Okposo are finding other ways to contribute, but they’ll need to generate more offense.
This is not the first time that the Islanders have tried to find a way to win without a wealth of gifted players. They finally have the right coach to lead such an effort.
Instead of hoping that creativity somehow materializes, Scott Gordon’s Islanders create scoring chances with a relentless forecheck, by throwing the puck on net as often as possible, and by making quick decisions with the puck at full speed.
The challenge for the Islanders is to sustain their high-intensity pressure for 60 minutes a night, and for 64 more games. But even the veterans have bought into Gordon’s style—they just need to survive its rigors.
Garth Snow is looking sharp for offering long deals to players like Mark Streit, Trent Hunter, and Frans Nielsen. And yes, that is Doug Weight with 16 points in 18 games.
For now, Islanders fans can relish the possibility that this team is nourishing the future while remaining entertaining and competitive in the present.
The content of this article originally appeared on IllegalCurve.com.