Another strong effort, another win at the beloved Barc…fun, right?
Garth Snow and Doug Weight's club has been a blast the first 24 games of the season. To the people who cover the league closely but the Islanders not closely enough, they are one of the surprise early hits of the season.
Like a lot of things when it comes to the Islanders, and this has almost always been the case throughout their history, it's like no one saw this coming.
Few picked the Islanders to make the playoffs, let alone challenge for one of the top-three spots in the Metropolitan division. You would have thought few saw the second half of last season, or that they didn't have many good players outside of John Tavares.
Although the official NHL website asked its 17 writers for their preseason predictions of five players to win the Calder Trophy, and out of those 85 possible slots, Mathew Barzal didn't get a single mention.
Well, Barzal has been the best rookie so far in the NHL.
Tavares appears determined to prove how valuable he is before giving everyone agita next summer, officially launching his candidacy for the Hart Trophy last week by posterizing Sean Couturier. As the clip of his overtime shift against the Flyers went viral, the rest of North America reacted like, "Hey, that guy Tavares is really, really good."
Nick Leddy should be a top Norris Trophy contender for his excellence in all zones. If he was still in Chicago, the national media would be writing poetry about him.
Doug Weight, Coach of the Year? Not yet, at least while the Devils and Golden Knights are still winning, but Weight should be in the conversation.
Of course, it's too early to get pumped about individual awards, but this is one of the fun parts of winning during the long regular season. All the Islanders have to do is keep this pace up for another four months, and prove they're worthy of consideration over and over again.
About two weeks ago, Jordan Peele was on "Colbert." My son and I watched, waiting for the moment when Peele would plug his next movie or show, because that's what happens on late night TV. But he never did. Instead, he spoke about the inspiration for his movie "Get Out," and shared a story about how he snuck into a college course dedicated to his film.
My son asked, "'Get Out' came out at the beginning of the year…why's he still talking about it now"? That's when we realized…it's awards season! Peele is making the rounds because the Academy Awards push is on, and while most of the so-called prestige, Oscar-bait films come out in December, the writer-director is saying, "Hey, don't forget about the little hit we had many months ago!"
This is what the Islanders have to do the rest of the way. They are the smaller, independent company that has to fight for respect.
This is the way it has always been. Even when they participated in Stanley Cup parades year after year after year after year, the members of the Islanders' dynasty often felt disrespected. One Hall of Famer told me he thought there was more hoo-hah about the Rangers' Cup in 1994 than there was for the Islanders' four. For a smaller, more recent example, remember when Ted Nolan's Islanders made the playoffs in 2007 and The Hockey News didn't have them in the 2007 Stanley Cup Playoffs preview issue? (PR guy at the time musta been asleep).
Some of this is out of the Islanders' control. They are not an "Original Six," and not in Canada. They are one of three teams in the New York area, and the Rangers are the Rangers. That's okay. Being the other team is part of the Islanders' identity, which is what makes them special. This identity is why crowds at Islanders home games have a different sound to them. Hear the buzz the last few weeks in Brooklyn? It's the sound of, "Is it possible this is the year we're really good"? It's a beautiful noise.
However, some of the battle for national attention is in the Islanders' control, if they want it to be (when he ran the Devils, Lou Lamoriello wanted no part of it). The Islanders can accept every invitation to go on NHL Network and do all the radio shows in Canada, taking every opportunity to point out how good Leddy and Barzal are. When the Islanders have a morning skate in Toronto or Montreal or Vancouver, and the press briefing turns into the inevitable inquisition about Tavares in July, the linguistically-gifted Weight can change the narrative and pump the tires of his most valuable players when the team is on a roll.
Yes, individual awards are not very important. Only the Stanley Cup truly is. And yes, it is still early in the season. For all of the Islanders' success - including road wins in Tampa Bay, St. Louis and Nashville that should really help them in the BCS rankings - a sudden slide could take them out of the East's top eight.
Unlike previous years, they're banking a lot of standing points early. If they keep this up, they could be the talk of the league in the spring, when it really matters.
Tweeted Question of the Day
@XBA83 asked two: "Did Neil Smith make the right choice sacrificing his career over the DiPietro contract"?
That's what Mr. Smith would like people to believe. The idea that Smith took a heroic stand in trying to fight Charles Wang over giving Ricky a 15-year contract is simply fiction. Smith was fired because, despite accepting the general manager job knowing Wang insisted on a board approach (with Bryan Trottier, Pat LaFontaine, Ted Nolan and others), Smith resisted the concept for pretty much all of his thirty days.
Smith was offered the opportunity to resign, but declined. Other than the one month he was with the Islanders, Smith has not been a GM in the NHL since he was dismissed by the Rangers over 17 years ago.
Who if any Islanders from those dark days in the '90s could make today's roster?
There are a few you could make the case for, but I'll give you the best fit. If a healthy Kenny Jonsson was on the Islanders today, they'd really be a tough out in this year's playoffs.
Kenny was so smart, so smooth, so good. At his healthiest and happiest, he was an elite defenseman. He was also a very funny guy. He used to good-naturedly point out how I was getting softer in the middle. This was endearing because, Kenny - NHL star, Olympic champ - had the abdomen of a beer league softball player.
Josh Bailey is a wonderful story, but not the MVP of the team so far this season. Pretty sure even Joshua's mom and dad would vote for Tavares.
Twisted bright spot for your Islanders: they've won 15 of 24, and the goaltending has rarely been stellar.
Saw a guy on MLB Network the other night say Giancarlo Stanton would help the Red Sox if they got him in a trade. That's my analysis of the Islanders' potential acquisition of Oliver Ekman-Larsson. He'd help. He'd be their Kenny Jonsson.