Will they remain there for the rest of the campaign, or slip out of the playoff mix altogether?
Where will the Islanders finish this season?
Greg Wyshynski, senior NHL writer: The Islanders have 62 points in 48 games -- three points ahead of second-place Columbus. They're eight points clear of the Buffalo Sabres, who sit right outside the wild-card bubble. As shocking as all of this is, it would be just as shocking now if the Islanders missed the playoffs. The math is very much in their favor.
Speaking of math, the Islanders are all over the stats map. Their 47.93 Corsi for percentage is sixth worst in the NHL, but they're ninth in shots allowed (30.3 per game). They get 48.89 percent of the five-on-five scoring chances, but they've gotten 56.88 percent of the high-danger goals scored at even strength. They're 16th in goals per game (2.98) but first in team save percentage (.919). As Andrew Gross noted, the Islanders have allowed "one goal or fewer 18 times this season, including the last five games, and have kept opponents under 20 shots in three straight games." That's tremendous, but does that add up to postseason success?
I think so. Barry Trotz, your 2018-19 Jack Adams Award winner, has this team playing a style and a structure that's going to be really difficult to break through against in a seven-game series. But there's something else going on here: There's that chip on their shoulder. Maybe it's what the punditry said before the season about the team and the players or John Tavares leaving or Trotz and Lou Lamoriello on their own redemption tours. There's a defiance and a resolve here that's become undeniable. I'm not sure they have the horses to win the conference, but they have what it takes to win a playoff round.
If only the hockey gods would deliver unto us a Capitals vs. Islanders divisional series.
Dimitri Filipovic, hockey analytics writer: It's not the sexiest take in the internet era, when everything needs to either be the absolute worst or the very best, but there's surely a reasonable middle ground for the Islanders to settle in between now and the end of the regular season. I don't know very many people who predicted that they'd be this good after the sobering summer they had, and whenever a team blows our collective expectations out of the water the way they have thus far, there's typically some level of pushback to it and nitpicking of it that follows. But here's the thing: Even if they might not actually be the best team in the Metropolitan Division as the standings would currently suggest, there's plenty of reasons for optimism that they'll be able to still hang around in the playoff race moving forward.
If you're looking for a fly in the Islanders' ointment here, you don't have to overexert yourself. As a team, they're currently first in save percentage at both five-on-five and in all situations. They're also fourth in shooting percentage at five-on-five, and ninth overall. Even if you're a subscriber to the idea that there is some wrinkle in Barry Trotz's heralded system that organically inflates those figures, history has understandably instilled a level of uneasiness that's associated with a team that's relying on great numbers in those categories to win games.
That overall package doesn't tell the full story, however. While their underlying shot metrics aren't particularly sparkling, they've actually been perfectly fine since an ugly opening month of the season. After an October in which they were 30th in the league in shot attempts (42.2 percent differential) and shots on goal (40.9 percent), they've progressively been trending upward and improving in both categories ever since they called up and started utilizing some of their younger pieces like Devon Toews, Michael Dal Colle and Josh Ho-Sang. In nearly 25 games since Dec. 1, they've skyrocketed all the way up to 10th in shot attempts (52.1 percent) and 12th in shots on goal (51.5 percent). In typical fashion for a Trotz team, they've stumbled upon a formula that works: They slow the game down (only the Blues play at a slower pace), limit the events that take place, and control what happens around the net.
I'm willing to give them a pass for that early-season hole, and believe that this recent sample they've put together is more indicative of their true talent level. If that really is the case, that's more than good enough to give them a fighting chance on most nights considering how good their goaltending has been throughout. I'm still skeptical that they possess enough offensive firepower to deal with the top teams in a playoff series, but just the fact that that's a legitimate discussion now is a testament to how far the outlook for the Islanders has come in such a short period of time.