By Jeff Capellini
What do you know? There's some good news for a change.
When last we met, the Islanders were the worst team in the NHL. They were pretty much dead on arrival no matter the opponent or venue.
Not so much anymore.
Thanks to a run of nine points in five games, the Isles have started to show that maybe, just maybe, the feared season of doom and regression may not happen after all.
If you recall, New York started with just six wins in its first 20 games, playing every bit like a team that had completely lost its way. You couldn't peruse the internet for more than 30 seconds without seeing a horde of angry supporters calling for the heads of general manager Garth Snow and head coach Jack Capuano, not to mention countless players who looked totally disinterested in continuing the good vibrations created by last season's 100-point campaign and playoff breakthrough.
But for lack of a better cliche, let's just say the light has since gone on inside the Islanders' locker room, at least temporarily, and, as a result, whatever belief system the team decided to create has been reproduced over the last 10 days.
I don't want to get ahead of myself by saying something premature, like the Islanders have turned a corner or anything, but they do have the Honda SUV humming in the right direction.
Will they be a playoff team again? I have no idea. But you can't help but be encouraged by what has transpired on the ice of late. The Islanders' 4-0-1 run has featured impressive wins over the high-flying Rangers, defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins and always-explosive Capitals, the three expected juggernauts in the Metropolitan Division.
Though they are still looking up at a slew of teams in the Eastern Conference playoff chase, the Islanders (10-10-5, 25 points) are right there with everyone else in the tightly packed race for the two wild-card spots.
They are doing it the old fashioned way, with defense, quality goaltending and timely offense.
The Isles have allowed just 10 goals over their last five games, while scoring 16, a vast number when you consider just how difficult it has been for this team to generate quality chances on a regular basis.
Now, to be fair, the Islanders have not been the advanced stats darlings that they've been in the past. Take Tuesday night's 4-2 win over the Rangers, for example. The visitors had 77 shot attempts to just the Isles' 44, mostly due to a slew of penalties the home side had to deal with in the first period.
The Isles were also out-chanced over long stretches by the Penguins and Caps, but found ways to win thanks to a rededication to the aforementioned aspects of their game that had been their bread and butter for much of the previous two seasons.
That sounds like a recipe for success to me, assuming this offense continues to be a work in progress while Snow searches for a high-scoring forward or two on the trade front.
The Islanders, at least for the time being, seem more in-tune with who they are supposed to be. Their focus, sense of urgency and attention to detail of late have resembled qualities that are staples of playoff clubs.
New York has killed off 19 consecutive power plays, prowess that has been necessary because its power play entering Tuesday ranked 30th in the league. And though the Islanders did get a man-up marker from John Tavares late to seal the win over the Rangers, the unit does not inspire warm, fuzzy feelings.
But, again, if the Isles play to their capabilities and as a sum of their collective parts, there will remain reasons to believe they can make something out of this season.
As for the goaltending, Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss have been tremendous of late, something the Islanders have to hope continues as they try to put .500 and mere respectability in their rearview mirror.
Halak, who earlier this season was put on the block due to comments his agent made chastising the team's three-goalie approach, has posted a 1.99 goals-against average and .945 save percentage over his last three starts, while Greiss, who was the rock that carried the club late last season and in the playoffs while Halak was out with an injury, has performed to the tune of 2.12 and .929 over his last five appearances.
Needless to say, if the Isles keep getting goalie play like that, they may be able to withstand the occasional off night from their defense corps and inconsistency from their forwards.
Speaking of the much-maligned offense, the Islanders have managed to do something recently that may be an indicator of a better tomorrow. Of the 16 goals they have amassed over their last five games, only two have been scored by Tavares. The captain has 20 points in 25 games, a somewhat pedestrian start given how dominant he was late last season and in the team's first-round playoff series win over Florida.
But odds are Tavares will eventually get it all going, especially if Snow somehow upgrades the top line. In the interim, however, Capuano has to be thrilled to see goals coming from all over his roster. Anders Lee, in particular, has been very good, registering six points over his last seven contests.
Summer free agent signings Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera appear to be settling in as well, as they have combined for four goals and two assists over the last four games.
No one is saying the Islanders are about to make a meteoric rise in the East. They still have a ton of work to do. But, if this past stretch of games is any indication, they are trending upward.
Just how high they rise will depend on a lot of factors, things they can control, like playing 60 minutes every night and bringing the same intensity and lunchpail mentality into each and every game.
They can see the corner. Now it's just a matter of maintaining the proper speed to make the turn.
Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet
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