Andy Graziano, SNY.TV Twitter
It's been a complete 180 for the New York Islanders since the 2016-17 season under the early season leadership of Jack Capuano, as the team is 12-7-2 for 26 points -- an eight point improvement -- and the start that the coaching staff and players said they were searching for in training camp.
How they have done it has been unconventional, however, in the current times of the National Hockey League, and its strict adherence to defensive structure and keeping the puck out of your own net. It brings some of us older folk back to a time of the run-and-gun NHL when teams seemingly averaged four goals each per night, and a 3.00 goals against average was considered good.
Comparatively, the dominant Islanders team of 1981-82, en route to winning their third straight Stanley Cup, won 54 games, scoring 385 goals and allowing 250. Last season, only four teams -- yes, four -- allowed more than 250 goals.
In 2017-18, the Islanders have clearly been one of the more entertaining teams to watch, often playing an up-and-down, run-and-gun style that keeps fans of that style of play enthralled while hardcore fans of the team remain on the edge of their seats, never knowing how big a lead might be considered 'safe'. They are fourth in the league with 77 goals, but having played fewer games than all but the top team (Tampa) who have scored 83.
On the defensive side, while 20 goals against separate New York from the bottom (Arizona, 89), they still rank 24th with 69 goals allowed. And stepping away from the statistical side of things for a minute, the old fashioned, tried but true-eye test, tells you all you need to know about the team's struggles in their own end.
With youngsters Adam Pelech, Ryan Pulock and Scott Mayfield all finally getting their shot at the big time, some lapses are to be expected. But the veterans need to pull more weight when it comes to offering fans a reprieve from reaching nightly for the home defibrillator machine.
Calvin de Haan looks to have recovered from his early season struggles, potentially relating to his impending contract status in the summer of 2018, and has been playing more steadily as of late. Johnny Boychuk's play is turning back the clock to his first season with the team in 2014-15, but at age 33, you have to hope he stays physically sound. Nick Leddy has been...well, Nick Leddy. Almost impossible to beat to a loose puck and 18 points in 21 games is his best early season start since joining the team.
Outside of the top three is where we see more question marks. Thomas Hickey has not played at the same level as his previous two seasons, and is struggling a bit with faster, bigger forecheckers, playing within the rules of no obstruction. Pulock, for the most part, has been OK, with his one noticeable gaff coming Sunday in Carolina, leading to a scratch for Wednesday's 4-3 overtime win over the Philadelphia Flyers. Mayfield has been the best of the bunch, playing with physicality and confidence as well as a knack for pinching at the right time and keeping plays alive in the offensive zone.
Dennis Seidenberg is clearly showing age, and to watch him run around on the penalty kill after forwards 10-15 years his junior is painful.
The team could certainly use more help from the forwards, that's for sure. Never an enthusiastic bunch when given the chore of backchecking and defensive zone coverage, where too often than not the holes in the high slot have been so noticeable you can land a 747 there comfortably.
The penalty kill is at 79.4 percent, and has allowed three goals in their last seven times short. They have been missing -- yes I am going to say it -- Nikolay Kulemin. Clearances are an adventure as they are too often being shot right at opposing defenseman, offering an easy keep, or too weakly up the boards, barely making it to the blue line with a good roll.
If you had to make a wish list of Islanders needs at this early juncture, with the trade deadline still months away, it would be for a top-four, minute-eating defenseman. I know, everyone is looking similarly and the sale rack looks slim picking. But you never know what comes available when general managers huddle in February, look at their salary cap and standings place, and make those hard decisions.
Islanders boss Garth Snow clearly has the pieces to make a big move with Mathew Barzal's continued excellence and Josh Ho-Sang working his way towards a larger role making others more expendable, not to mention the two first-round picks and two second-round picks in next year's deep draft.
Looking at New York's December schedule, at current, doesn't induce many feelings of impending doom. It could prove to be a golden opportunity to shore things up on the back end before things get interesting after the start of the new year.
If not, the real fear is the Islanders current style might not be that sustainable in the long run.