It’s the first day of December, and the New York Islanders are in first place, tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins at the top of the Metropolitan Division, with 34 points. The Penguins have a game in hand, but still. What a turnaround.
Those 34 points aren’t just good enough for a shared lead in the division; it equals six teams at the top of the NHL standings.
For a little perspective on the Islanders' growth, consider this: On Dec. 1 of last season, the Islanders were 8-15-4, which was last in the division. Another way to look at it: They had just as many wins at this point in the 2013-14 season as the Buffalo Sabres do this season.
By now, the big moves GM Garth Snow made since then have been widely credited for the turnaround. The aggressive trades for Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy, the free-agent additions of Jaroslav Halak, Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolay Kulemin. The drafting and developing of tons of talent, without losing patience in the process as things went sideways. Those are all big reasons for the success.
In comments to colleague Pierre LeBrun recently, captain John Tavares explained how all the new components are contributing to the Isles' early success. "We made a lot of additions this offseason, guys that have made such a big impact for us. We knew the depth we had coming into this season, we just had to go out there and execute the way we wanted to play, the style of play we wanted to play.
"We had a real tough camp, it was intense, coaches challenged us and made a lot of battles for positions and ice time. That’s certainly got us ready for the reason, and you can see the contributions we’re getting from everybody, it’s not just a few guys. Everybody is stepping up in a different way and it’s made a big difference."
In chatting with Corey Hirsch, Halak’s goalie coach last season with the St. Louis Blues, he pointed out an under-the-radar decision by Snow that he believes helped boost Halak’s chances of success with the Islanders.