As the NHL season reaches the quarter-mark, the time comes to put teams into three categories. The contenders, the pretenders, and those whom we are not quite sure about.
The Islanders fall into the third category.
Before the season began, many saw the Islanders as a team that's going to contend for John Tavares and not for the playoffs. New coach Scott Gordon's new style was viewed with skepticism and the team was viewed as one that could go only as far as goalie Rick DiPietro would take them.
The roster appeared to be a team that is trying to rebuild with old bricks with young players such as Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey mixed with veterans Bill Guerin and Doug Weight. It also included players that could possibly be on their last strike in terms of succeeding in the NHL.
When it seemed as if he were on the verge of retirement, Doug Weight managed to rediscover the scoring touch that made him so great. With 16 points on the year, he is on track to have 73 by season's end. Last year, no Islander broke 50. Trent Hunter has seven goals on the year and is on track to be a 30 goal scorer. Last year, no Islander broke 25.
Mark Streit has four goals on defense so far. Islander defenseman combined to score 16 goals last year. Rookies Josh Bailey and Kyle Okposo are beginning to blend after Bailey missed some time with an injury.
Bailey who's in the midst of a nine-game tryout before the Islanders have to decide to keep him or send him back to the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL has yet to score a goal but has looked impressive and if he stays could form a young scoring duo with Okposo.
Grade- B- Only 47 goals so far but they have shown at times the ability to light up the scoreboard against some high quality competition. (The first 40 minutes against Montreal, lets not talk about the last 20 minutes)
The Islanders' biggest offseason move was the signing of free agent defenseman Mark Streit. Streit had just come off a career year with the Montreal Canadians and was one of the top defenseman available. There had been doubts with his defensive ability since he was a power play specialist.
When early-season injuries hampered Andy Sutton, Brendan Witt, Radek Martinek, and Chris Campoli he became the top defenseman. He performed superbly as a front-line defenseman who can not only help in his own zone but wreak some havoc in the opponent's zone.
Grade- C The defense would be better but without so many key parts, it's understandable why they have given up 60 goals this year.
The Isles special teams have done fairly well with their special teams. The early season injuries and offseason acquisitions have led to some success and some problems. The power play is 13 for 90 with a 14.4 percent conversion rate, currently 27th which leaves room for improvement. The penalty kill is 82 for 98 with a 83.7 percent killing rate, currently 11th.
The keynote on special teams have been shorthanded goals, the Islanders have six which is good for 2nd in the league. Proof that Scott Gordon's style of an aggressive forecheck can lead to success as it has caused pointmen on the opponent's power play to be more careful with the puck or risk a breakaway the other way.
Grade- B The penalty kill has not only performed in preventing a power play goal but it has proved to be a possible scoring threat itself. Now about that power play..
It was agreed by all the pundits before the season that the Islanders could go only as far as Rick DiPietro could take them. It didn't take long to find out he wasn't 100% ready to take the Islanders anywhere.
After offseason surgeries on a hip and knee, DiPietro suffered another knee injury requiring surgery and is out for a few more weeks. With DP out the job went to journeyman Joey MacDonald.
Mac started out a little shaky but eventually began to play well and is now gaining folkhero status among Islander fans. (Like his predecessor) He even outdueled the best goalie currently playing in the league (Brodeur is hurt) in Roberto Luongo for a shootout win over the Canucks.
Grade-A- Without MacDonald the Islanders would've began selling the Tavares jerseys and season tickets for 2009-2010. (Slight exaggeration but you get the point)
Overall C- Could be a whole lot worse but it could be better and there is signs that it could get better.