New York Islanders

The New York Islanders have been wildly inconsistent in 2015-16, recently winning three games in a row after dropping seven of their last 11.

By Justin Weiss

Sure, it’s only three.

But the New York Islanders‘ rousing 5-2 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night reaffirms what many have been saying all along: this team is so inconsistent, it’s absurd.

While it seems safe to say that the Isles have underachieved through 53 games, it’s not too uncommon for fans to feel like the 2015-16 version of their squad has captured some of the same magic of last year’s team.

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The New York Islanders are wildly inconsistent. “After winning six of their first nine games, they lost 9 of their next fourteen — only to win seven of eight, then lose seven of 11,” Dave Caldwell of The New York Times so accurately announced in mid-January.

Most recently, they’ve enjoyed success against the Edmonton Oilers, Columbus Blue Jackets and Los Angeles Kings (they also played well against the first-place Washington Capitals).

So what’s gone right?

Penalty Killin’

For the first four months of the 2014-15 NHL season, the Isles were on pace to own the worst PK% in league history.

Assistant coach Greg Cronin had been just hauled in from Toronto, and the Isles were having trouble adapting to his system. But eventually, they did.

“I would say we’re understanding what coach wants us to do,” Frans Nielsen told Arthur Staple of Newsday, referring to Greg Cronin. “We struggled with it last year and now, we just play. Hockey is one of those things, when you’re thinking, you’re usually a step behind. The PK guys, we’re just reacting right now, there isn’t much thinking.”

The team’s special teams success can be attributed to two things: the goaltending and the change in structure (a testament to Cronin’s system).

Both Thomas Greiss and Jaroslav Halak, and even Jean Francois Berube, have been extremely effective on the defense. As of February 12, Halak ranked third in penalty kill save percentage among starting netminders, while Greiss is close behind.

Additionally, the forwards have become much more aggressive in pursuing pucks, while the team as a whole has done a wonderful job cutting off the seam-pass.

“There’s always some luck in there, too,” Greiss said. “A puck bounces off a leg and goes in and then you’re not successful even though you’re still doing things right. But our whole unit on the PK has been doing a great job cutting down on chances.”

Cap’n Cal

For many years, fans were dismayed that general manager Garth Snow shipped top prospect Nino Niederreiter to Minnesota for a lowly fourth liner by the name of Cal Clutterbuck.

It turns out that Clutterbuck can be attributed for generating momentum, scoring opportunities and shootout wins.

He has emerged as the leader of the team’s highly touted fourth line, prompting captain John Tavares to say this about his (and the line’s) efforts:

“We certainly build off the momentum when we’re generating line-after-line,” Islanders captain John Tavares told the media last season. (Even though it was said last season, it still rings true.) “They’ve been great for us this year, and they just do the right things, play hard, and obviously they have some skill and can make some plays.”

Greiss, Greiss Baby

In New York’s final preseason game, Thomas Greiss surrendered a handful of goals, prompting speculation that guys like Stephon Williams and Christopher Gibson could take his place on the team.

It’s turned out to be anything but.

Greiss, 30, has had a career-year for the Isles in 2015-16. He has excellent puck-stopping ability, and has proved that he can handle a big workload.

Says captain John Tavares, “He’s been great all year. He made some big saves for us. It was nice to give him a lead, and get the win.”

Beasts of the East West

While New York has enjoyed success against Metropolitan division foes, they’ve achieved the most success against Western Conference powerhouses such as the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks and Dallas Stars.

Brockin’ on ?

Brock Nelson, 24, has tallied 20 goals and 11 assists (31 points) this season. Not only that, but he elevated his game at the most crucial point: when John Tavares was struggling to find the back of the net.

The Warroad, MN native possesses excellent size and good two-way instincts. He is incredibly poised, and has the physicality and hockey sense to be a versatile forward.

“Just keep going, stay confident, and shoot the puck,” Nelson said.

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Justin Weiss is a staff editor at Elite Sports New York, where he covers the New York Islanders and Brooklyn Cyclones. In 2016, he received a Quill Award for Freelance Journalism. He has written for the Long Island Herald, FanSided and YardBarker.