License to Kill: New York Islanders

With seven games in the books, Islander fans are left feeling oddly confident and pleasantly surprised with the team's success to begin their season. With a tough road trip that traveled through the cities of Toronto, Boston, Winnipeg, Pittsburgh and New Jersey, the Islanders return home accomplishing what they had intended to do.

 
Stay afloat.
 
One of the most refreshing commentary about this team is that they are in every game. Yes, it is still early but they have not looked over matched and they had opportunities to win every game they've played in this year. 
 
 
Watching the game in Boston, fans saw the Isles hang around for as long as they could. There were times when they actually looked like they were going to leave Beantown with a stealthy two points. (Flickr/Photo Credit: Dougtone)
 
Although outplayed and outworked for most of the night in Winnipeg, they rode a hot Nabokov through the last two periods to steal a point.
 
The Islanders had a frenzied finale to their first road trip of the year when they defeated the Devils in overtime to bring their record to 4-2-1. Brad Boyes netted an overtime  winner that capped what was a fun night of hockey.
 
The Islanders are showing that the tide may be turning in their favor. They took an awful penalty late in third after the Devils had tied it. They had too many men on the ice and looked to be struggling to hold on to at least get one point.
 
The ice had been tilted and all of the momentum rushed towards the Devils.
Last year they would have coughed up that game without hesitation.
 
This year they held the fort and survived a crazy finish to take the win. This team just feels different.
 
 
Why have the Islanders been successful?
 
Well, a lot of things are going well for them. They are getting scoring from unlikely contributors. They are currently 4th in all of the NHL in goals per game averaging 3.86! The only teams ahead of them in that category is Tampa Bay, San Jose, and St. Louis. (Photo Credit: Flickr/tvander2012)
 
 
They are playing defense beyond many expectations with new additions Thomas Hickey, Joe Finley and Brian Strait. 
 
 
Brian Strait has been an absolute relevation for the Islanders since being claimed on waivers.
However, the biggest reason the Islanders have been relatively successul is because of their penalty kill. They rank 2nd in the NHL in penalty killing percentage at 96%. They have only allowed one goal against during these situations.
 
Obviously the penalty killing unit wasn't going to remain perfect throughout the whole year but it was almost surprising to see Winnipeg net a tally on Sunday. (Photo Credit: Flickr/bobfina72)
 
That's how good they have been.
 
They look comfortable and confident during these penalty kills and proof of that can be seen during the game on Tuesday when they handcuffed the Penguins' high powered offense. They fear no one right now and as the season wears on, confidence will only grow if this keeps up.
 
They were perfect against the Devils killing off penalties in big spots of the game. They are showing a fortitude and grit that seems to be contagious in the locker room.
 
They say that your best penalty killer can be your goalie. That has been true at times with the splendid play of Nabokov bailing out mistakes.
 
 
There is no denying that the success on special teams transcends just that area of play. It is a definite momentum booster that affects all facets of their game. (Photo Credit: Flickr/clydeorama)
 
To go along with the Islanders' penalty killing success, they are dangerous short handed with speedster Michael Grabner always looking for an opportunity to dash off with the puck. 
 
This is the kind of niche, the Islanders need to carve out if they are going to compete in the Eastern Conference. In a stacked Atlantic Division, they will have to stand out in some way to break through and make the playoffs.
 
There is no reason to believe that the Islanders can't do this all year. But they have to remain healthy and focused.
 
The best weapon against Nash, Gaborik, Malkin, Crosby, Giroux and Kovalchuk is a stingy defense especially on the penalty kill.
 
Nothing kills the will of a talented and stacked offense than being shut down when up a man. 
 
Here's hoping the Islanders' penalty killers will continue carving their niche in a tough division.