It’s officially January and we are nearing the halfway point in the NHL season. The New York Islanders are in the thick of the playoff picture while the New York Rangers are struggling to keep up. Here’s a deep dive into how each team is doing and what they’ll need to do to make the playoffs.
New York Islanders
The Islanders entered the year considered among the top teams contending for a Stanley Cup in the east. After being brutally swept last season by the Carolina Hurricanes in the second round, Coach Barry Trotz is certainly looking to get his team further in his second season with the organization. Among the big changes from last year is that goalie Robin Lehner moved on from the team in the offseason and Semyon Varlamov, a longtime goaltender for the Colorado Avalanche, has taken his place.
What hasn’t changed is the play of center Matthew Barzal, who is once again the star of this team. He currently leads the team in points and goals, and is tied for first in assists. Fellow center Brock Nelson isn’t far behind him in any of the three categories, however, as both players have been carrying the team offensively. Unfortunately, the Islanders are about average in the league in scoring and need to improve on that front. Meanwhile, the team has played significantly well defensively as they are among the best in save percentage and have not allowed many goals.
The team started out the season 16-3-1, including 10 straight wins for nearly a month before falling to the Penguins in early November, which was followed by a five game win streak. But since mid-November they’ve come back down to earth a bit, having had a few more bumps in the road. Their early season success, plus the lack of long losing streaks, keeps them in the playoff picture for now. If the Islanders want to make a deep run in the playoffs, however, many of the players need to start scoring some points.
New York Rangers
The Rangers are a young team that are trying to build a foundation for the future. But while they are currently out of the playoff picture, there is one bright spot that has made watching Rangers games a lot of fun: free agent left wing Artemi Panarin.
Coming over from the Columbus Blue Jackets in the offseason and signing a seven-year deal with the Blue Shirts, he currently leads the team in goals and assists and has separated himself from the pack, including the next best player on the team, center Ryan Strome.
The strength of this team is in its goaltending. The team is the top half of the league in save percentage while being near the top of the league in shots against. The team has been allowing almost the same amount of goals as they are scoring, which is more of an indictment on a lack of defense than a lack of offense. And while the team has had many power play opportunities, they also are among the worst teams as far as committing major penalties this season.
The team has had a pretty average record throughout the year thus far. After back-to-back wins to kick off the season, they then lost five straight and have been going back-and-forth between wins and losses for weeks. Their longest win streak was a three game stretch in mid-November. The Rangers needs to play better around goalie Henrik Lundqvist, a sentence used many times before in his time with the team, and the team needs to start getting closer to Panarin’s level of productivity on offense to even have a shot at competing for the playoffs.