A Borough of Hope: Breaking Down the Islanders' Playoff Chances

The New York Islanders have been on the rise since the start of 2017. Can this push get them into the Stanley Cup playoffs?

The New York Islanders won their first playoff series in 22 years last spring, in a thrilling six-game series with the Florida Panthers.

Coming into this season, expectations were high, and with the talents of John Tavares and free agent signing Andrew Ladd, it was no surprise that the fanbase now stemming through Atlantic Avenue had this mentality.

The start of this season, however, was one the Islanders would like to forget. Through their first 32 games, they sat last in the Eastern Conference with an even 30 points, with little to no chance to scrape even the bottom of the playoffs.

In the proceeding 16 games over the course of the rest of December and into January, the Islanders have given the league a cause to pause. They have nearly doubled their point total (entering February 1, the Islanders have 53 points) and have greatly increased their chances to fight for the Stanley Cup.

The Effect of Play

By being able to amass 23 points in 16 games over the course of a month and a half, the Islanders now have a 38.0% chance to reach the playoffs, according to our algorithm.

This number -- although still well below 50% -- can be increased if the Islanders' positive play continues. After all, our algorithm sees them as an above-average team, expected to beat an average squad by 0.09 goals at a neutral site.

Per Sports Club Stats, there are a high number of outcomes that get the team in blue and orange into the postseason. With a perfectly reasonable record of 20-11-3 in their next 34 games, the Islanders would have a 91.7% chance to make the playoffs.

Of course, that depends on how other teams perform, but it's certainly likely that the Islanders can climb up the rankings and into the playoffs.

The Catalysts to the Movement

When teams perform well, usually, certain players are pointed out as reasons why. For the younger of New York's two hockey teams, those catalysts are Thomas Greiss and John Tavares.

Since Jaroslav Halak's demotion to the American Hockey League, Greiss has been named the Islanders' starting goaltender. This determination made by the Islanders brass has seemed to be a great decision, but how does Greiss stand up to his competition throughout the league?

Here are his marks and ranks among goaltenders with a minimum of 25 games, per Hockey Reference.

Thomas Greiss Value NHL Rank
Goals Against 54 1st
Save Percentage 92.8% 4th
Goals Against Average 2.25 7th
Quality Starts 17 16th
Quality Starts % 70.8% 3rd
Really Bad Starts 3 T-4th
Goals Saved Above Average 11.52 4th

As we can see, Greiss is in the top 10 for every stat aside from quality starts, but he has started only 25 games.

On average, Greiss performs better than goalies such as Tuukka Rask and Corey Crawford, showing his immense value to the Islanders as a whole. This is one of the reasons why Greiss has recently been signed to a three-year extension.

On the other side of the coin, Tavares has provided a majority of the offense that Islanders have put up, which is reasonable considering his elite status in the league. Tavares at this point in the season ranks 19th in goals with 19, 20th in goals created (16.6), and 18th in shots with 154, giving him far more than enough reasons to be named to this year's Metropolitan Division All-Star team.

Tavares, although having stats that are not quite blowing the league away, makes use of every chance he has, as seen by his highlight reel effort against the St. Louis Blues on December 8th.

Though his stats may seem a little lackluster, his performance is seen night in and night out.

His Corsica WOWY chart shows the impact he makes while on the ice. Two great examples of Tavares' value are shown by the singled out comparisons between Josh Bailey and Ryan Strome with and without Tavares as shown here.

A Fight for the Cup

Now that we've seen all the data, compiled all the facts, and pointed out all of the ingredients to the Islanders' recent success, can we call them a playoff team?

As it stands today, the Islanders are projected to finish with 90.5 points by our algorithm and with 91.4 points based on the metrics from HockeyViz.

With the pace the Islanders are moving at now, they can surpass the 90 or 92 points needed, per Sports Club Stats, giving them a serious chance to make their way into the NHL's Eastern Conference playoffs.