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Islanders Puck Talk – All-Star Break Review

Instead of the traditional breakdown of games on this week’s Puck Talk, it’s going to be a review of the Islanders at the All Star break.

As a quick review of the past week and a half, the Islanders went on a five game winning streak, including a shutout of the Capitals, and ended their first half with a shootout loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. It was a lot of hockey played and the Isles now take a well deserved break.

Michael Dal Colle and Devon Toews were loaned back to Bridgeport with the assumption that they’ll play in BPT’s game on Saturday and the AHL All-Star game.

This is going to be just a Good and Bad breakdown. Usually there’s an Ugly, but because of the fact that the Islanders are in first place in the Metro after being projected to finish dead last it’s a mostly positive review.

Now you may notice some people and things missing from this article. This piece is meant to highlight things that may not be talked about enough. Yes, Barry Trotz and Lou Lamoriello have done an amazing job. Yes, Mathew Barzal is an incredible player. Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss have both been incredible. This article however is about things that may have gone unnoticed.

The Good

Scott Mayfield and Devon Toews

Credit to Johnny Boychuk here too, as he’s played like an absolute warrior over the last few weeks. He blocks shots like nobody’s business, has gotten some of the toughest assignments and shut them down, and has played great hockey with a lackluster partner. However, this section is for two of the young kids.

This pairing of Scott Mayfield and Devon Toews may be the most underrated story in what is a fantastic Islanders season. Mayfield leads the team in TOI nearly every game, is a team high +17, and has 17 points.

Toews has stepped into Thomas Hickey’s role like he was a grizzled vet. He has three goals in his young career already, and his first was an OT winner against the Blackhawks. He has played wise beyond his years, and this pairing just does all the right things when they’re out on the ice.

The veteran leadership off the ice

We’ve already given plenty of praise to Barry Trotz and Lou Lamoriello for their construction of this roster and the way they’ve played. However, the media may not have touched enough on how guys like Val Filppula and Leo Komarov have helped shape this team’s identity.

They’re teaching the young kids all the right ways of how to be a pro on and off the ice. Mathew Barzal has grown leaps and bounds since his rookie season. Brock Nelson has become one of the most reliable two way forwards on the team. Leo Komarov was Josh Ho-Sang’s best pal from the moment he was brought back up.

It’s a testament to these guys that the Isles have been playing so well. There are so many teams that have veteran leadership, but so few that have the right people needed to get a team to the next level. These are the guys that do that.

The re-emergence of Jordan Eberle and Brock Nelson

If you were to tell me that at this point in the season the most reliable defensive forward on the Isles would be Brock Nelson, I would have chuckled. However, he’s slowly carved himself out to be an elite level two way forward. He may not be as flashy as he was a few years ago, but he’s making impacts in games he would normally disappear in.

Also, if you haven’t been paying attention Jordan Eberle has been one of the hottest players in hockey. After his brief stint on IR, Eberle has come back and scored seven goals. He’s finally buying into Trotz’s defense first system and he just looks much more poised than he did earlier in the season.

The Bad

The expiring contracts of Eberle and Nelson

While Anders Lee is essentially a lock to get a contract extension, no progress has been made on Jordan Eberle or Brock Nelson and there seem to be no ongoing talks. It was thought at the beginning of the season that Jordan Eberle would be the odd man out, but both forwards may be in different sweaters next season.

Eberle is expected to be in the 6.5 – 7M range, and Nelson most likely in the 5.5-6M range. The Islanders can’t throw that much money at three of their top forwards unless they feel there’s nothing better to replace them.

If all plays out and the Islanders continue to have success, it’s going to be a tough decision come deadline time on whether to keep all three or trade away for future assets or a young, controllable player.

The Josh Ho-Sang saga

It’s tiring trying to keep up with what’s going on in the never ending saga of Josh Ho-Sang. JHS was recently demoted with the return of Val Filppula, and most Islander fans were not happy considering how team friendly he played.

There were rumors swirling around that he may have dozed off in a team meeting and that he ruined his last chance at redemption, but all of the drama is just overplayed at this point. Ho-Sang is a good player but he still plays around with the puck too much and doesn’t shoot enough. Until he learns to be a more well rounded player he’s never going to fit into Barry Trotz’s system. He’s a very talented kid but at this point is he worth the headache?

The Power Play

The ONE real bugaboo of the Islanders has been their PP. They are currently 24th in the league with a 16.7% success rate. They’ve squandered at least 6-8 points not being able to capitalize on late game penalties.

The Isles have the talent, but their Power Play consists mostly of Mathew Barzal moving the puck around in the slot, feeding it to Nick Leddy who feeds it back and then it goes down low briefly to Jordan Eberle.

There’s no movement, there’s not a lot of flow, and quite honestly sometimes the Islanders should just defer the penalty. If they can get their PP firing on all cylinders, this team can be something special.

It’s safe to say that the Islanders are a legitimately good team this late in the season. How far they can go is determined by how much longer they can sustain playing excellent defense and getting timely goals. If they can accomplish that, they’ll be one of the toughest outs in the playoffs.

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