Half a season in the books and only a short few months and left in the 2017 NHL season, and in here in New York so far it’s been a head scratcher. Some things were predictable, others have left us fans stunned. We have seen some players stand out and some spectacular play here and there. We even have had a firing of a coach in the process and still have the back stretch of the season to go.
If I were to tell you back in September that Michael Grabner would be leading the New York Rangers in goals at the All-Star break AND that the boys in blue would be the second highest scoring offense in the league, you’d flat out laugh in my face. The Rangers are in front the Washington Capitals, Chicago Blackhawks, Tampa Lightning and the St. Louis Blues; something nobody could have predicted. It seems Alain Vigneault has got the right formula going with what he has to his disposal. Which is also probably why he has just earned himself a contract extension. AV is now under contract through the 2019/20 season and its well deserving. Since the start of the 2013-2014 season the Rangers rank third in the NHL in wins and are first in the East with 175.
Meanwhile in Brooklyn, the New York Islanders have been more on the unsteady side, as the find themselves on the outside looking in. The team is starting to really see the effects of letting certain players walk and trying to save money on cap room. Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen have gone and taken their scoring with them, the two former teammates got to catch up with John Tavares recently at the NHL All Star Game in Los Angeles. “It was great, just picked up where we left off, with our friendship,” said Tavares, the Islanders captain and perennial All-Star representative. “It was great to see them get here and be rewarded as great players. They’ve had great careers. It’s great to see them be All-Stars.” The Islanders have also relieved their head coach Jack Capuano of his job. With the team at 17-17-8 and in last place in Eastern Conference following a season in which it won a playoff series for the first time in 23 years, it was time for a change. Insert Doug Weight.
The Islanders seem to be finding their way since the Capuano firing. They beat the Bruins (under Jack Capuano), Dallas Stars, Los Angeles Kings, Columbus Blue Jackets, Montreal Canadiens and lost in OT to the Philadelphia Flyers. In all of these games they haven’t allowed more than two goals and have also committed to Thomas Greiss fully, offering him a three-year deal worth $10 million. Greiss has been one of the best goalies in the NHL since the calendar year flipped to 2017. Posting a 1.99 goals-against average and .936 save percentage over his last 11 starts. More importantly, the Isles have used the 30-year-old German’s play as a facilitator to get back into the playoff race in the Eastern Conference, as a 6-1-1 run has moved them within five points of the second wild card spot.
Rumors have been swirling all year, and even back to the offseason, about the Rangers possibly acquiring a top four defenseman. The Rangers have looked good on offense but besides Ryan McDonagh the team has looked satisfactory on the blue line. Guys like Nick Holden and Brady Skjei have played well with the minutes their logging. But as any true Rangers fan will tell you Girardi and Stall have looked lackluster. If the Rangers are going to try and make another serious run it may be time to pull the trigger and acquire some help.
Both of these teams like most, find themselves in a situation where they need to decide if they are pretenders or contenders for the cup. February 28th is the trade deadline and its approaching fast.
The Islanders seem to find themselves on a good run ever since Doug Weight has taken the reins. Greiss is playing very well and the team seems to be responding to the change. But how far can John Tavares carry his team? The East is no joke this year, all the teams floating on the outside looking in such as the Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs and the Florida Panthers are teams that could go on a run. The Islanders are going to really need to keep this momentum going and maybe add a winger to help take some of the load of off their captain.
When it comes to the Rangers the scoring has been there. Mika Zibanejad is now back and healthy and the same goes for Pavel Buchnevich. These playmakers, who can put the puck in the net, will be a helpful jolt back into the offense. The defense is going to have to either get it together and help out the captain Ryan McDonagh, and ride the coat tails of the offense. Leaning on a shaky defense and Henrik Lundqvist isn’t going to be good enough.
Both of these teams are trying to plug up some major holes in their lineups and it’s going to be interesting to see what they do leading up to the trade deadline. I predict that the Rangers and Islanders have enough pieces to move and improve their lineups, it’s just a matter of are they willing to let key pieces go with their given situations. All that can be said right now is that the Rangers and Islanders are about to get started on the home stretch of the season.