The Islanders are still a couple weeks from the official halfway point of the season, but we try to assess things when we can. So here are the Islanders “Halfsies,” the very unofficial first-half awards:
MVPs: Jaroslav Halak/Thomas Greiss. It has been a long, long while since Islanders goaltending was something to be celebrated, even last season when Halak set the franchise record with 38 wins.
The Islanders have shaved nearly a full goal off their goals allowed per game, down to 2.29. Halak — who did not practice on Saturday with an upper-body injury and is out seemingly for a few days following the break — has gotten off to a strong start with a .923 save percentage, 13th among NHL goaltenders with at least 15 appearances.
Halak’s superb start to the season has only been made possible by Greiss’ start. The 29-year-old journeyman is on his fourth NHL stop, but he’s never been close to this good — his .933 save percentage is third in the league among goaltenders with 15 or more appearances.
And, as may have to happen with Halak’s current injury, Greiss has shown he can carry the workload. Halak missed most of the preseason and the first week of the regular season with an upper body injury and Greiss went 2-0-1, allowing the Islanders to gain some confidence in their new backup.
John Tavares is the Islanders’ most important player, but the goaltenders have allowed the Isles to be where they are now.
Unsung heroes: Josh Bailey/Mikhail Grabovski/Cal Clutterbuck. Tavares and his linemates will get the bulk of the attention and Tavares’ struggles this first half have been well-documented.
Contributions from the Isles’ other lines have kept the offense going during the captain’s tough slog. Bailey’s numbers are on pace to equal his career bests, even though he still doesn’t shoot enough; Grabovski is fourth on the team with 11 even-strength points despite some possession issues and Clutterbuck has already equaled his 2014-15 season total with seven goals to go with all those hits from him and his fourth-line mates.
Best game: Islanders 2, Rangers 1 (shootout), Dec. 2. Barclays Center was full and raucous, the Rangers played one of their better games of the last six weeks and the Islanders were equal to the task. Almost every Islander spoke afterwards of the electricity in Brooklyn and the unspoken agreement among them was: Wouldn’t it be something in a seven-game series against those guys?
Grace under pressure: Travis Hamonic’s trade request was big news once it became public, but the Islanders defenseman has gone back to business as usual since that brief flurry of activity in November. He’s averaging a team-high 23:39 per game and playing well, all reasons why this asked-for trade still hasn’t materialized.
World junior watch
Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier, the Isles’ 2015 first-round draft picks, made Canada’s World Junior tournament squad that opened the event on Saturday with a 4-2 loss to the U.S in Helsinki, Finland. Barzal scored the first goal for Canada. Linus Soderstrom, the Isles’ 2014 fourth-round pick, got the win in goal for Sweden in its 8-3 victory over Switzerland.
Okposo practices, likely to play
Kyle Okposo missed the final two games prior to the holiday break with a lower-body injury but returned to practice on Saturday and appears likely to play Sunday against the Leafs. Okposo skated with Bailey and Frans Nielsen.