The New York Islanders are currently at the 60-game mark this season with the trade deadline now in the rear view mirror. While top-flight rentals would have cost a first-round pick and a prospect (too rich for Garth Snow's blood) or a second-round pick that they didn't own thanks to the Johnny Boychuk trade, the only changes came at the AHL level. New York picked up Shane Prince for a third-round pick, and Marc-Andre Cliche for Taylor Beck.
At the NHL level, the Islanders are still searching for that consistent 60-minute game that they can ride into the final 22 games of the regular season and Stanley Cup playoffs. Currently, according to sportsclubstats.com, New York has a 96.2 percent chance of making the postseason with a 69 percent chance of facing the rival New York Rangers in the opening round.
Even if the Isles were to crawl to a .500 finish at 10-10-2, they would still be looking at a 97.9 percent chance of being able to play for Lord Stanley, although 55 percent of that chance would be as a wild-card team.
Snow, for better or worse, is putting all his faith (and quite possibly his job) in the upcoming 27-man roster that will take the Islanders to the April 10 finale against the Philadelphia Flyers in Brooklyn. (NHL rosters now may expand up to four recalls until the end of the regular season.) He is counting on Ryan Strome (no points in six of the last seven games), Anders Lee (two goals in the last 12 games) and Brock Nelson (one goal in the last 12 games) to awaken the offense to support the Islanders' suddenly-powerful defense that is sending out in front of Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss, who have .919 and .930 save percentages, respectively.
The Islanders, much like their special teams, still cannot seem to put it all together. It has been frustrating to watch the offense playing well at the defense's expense and vice-versa over the first three quarters of the year. If they did, their record would certainly be better than their current 33-20-7 mark. That said, they are still in control of their destiny heading down the home stretch.
MVP: Frans Nielsen -- For my money, nobody has been more valuable at both ends of the ice than the pending unrestricted free agent. John Tavares has been on fire lately, but the Danish prince gets it done offensively and defensively, every game, every shift.
Biggest Surprise: Thomas Greiss -- It's a feel good story for the German backup goaltender who signed with the Islanders in the offseason. He has been a primary reason, especially through Halak's struggles, why the Islanders are where they are.
Best defenseman: Travis Hamonic -- Nick Leddy is who he is; it's amusing opponents still think they can outskate him. Boychuk is a tank. But Hamonic, considering the backstory, is my choice here. Playing through uncertainty and a trade request, he has been a true professional and leader. The Islanders are 20-5-3 when he leads team in time on ice.
Biggest disappointment: Ryan Strome -- Coming off a fantastic 50-point rookie season, some thought he might be immune to the sophomore slump that plagues most young players early in their career. Strome, by his own admission, helped this one along as he forced the coaching staff to send him to Bridgeport in November. Has really struggled in own zone.
Best Game: Islanders 6, Dallas 5 (Jan. 3, 2016) -- It always seems to a wild affair when these two meet, and this one was no exception. New York trailed twice before taking the lead for good and holding on for dear life as each team recorded over 40 shots.
Best Prospect: Michael Dal Colle -- He has taken back the OHL since being traded from a rebuilding Oshawa Generals team and having the pressure of the captaincy lifted, to the Kingston Frontenacs. He has 22 goals and 22 assists in 22 games, making it an incredible bounce-back season by the 19-year-old.
Fearless off-season prediction: Nielsen and Martin sign, Kyle Okposo doesn't. -- There's no reason to believe any of the Islanders restricted free agents are not tendered qualifying offers. Marek Zidlicky is not re-signed as room opens up for Ryan Pulock. Brian Strait signs but starts and spends most of the season in Bridgeport.