Thursday, January 10, 2019

Islander fans think the hockey world isn't giving their team enough credit. Do they have a case?

Islander​ fans don’t seem​ to​ be​ an​ especially​ friendly​ bunch these​ days.

Not all of​ them, of course.​ But​ a lot of them.​​ As they see it, their team isn’t getting enough attention from the rest of the hockey world, and they’re eager to let you know about it. If you happen to cross paths with an Islander fan on social media, or in a hockey forum, or (lord help you) in the comment section of a power rankings post somewhere, there’s a good chance that they’re coming out swinging. The topic doesn’t even have to have anything to do with them. These days, I’m pretty sure you could do a piece about the best moments of the Original Six era and a horde of angry Islander fans would show up demanding to know why they weren’t mentioned.

So what’s going on here? There are a couple of possibilities. The first is that Islander fans are just being typical sports fan babies, sulking because their middle-of-the-road team isn’t getting the credit that their homer-tinted glasses tell them they deserve even as everybody else rolls their eyes.

The second possibility is that, uh, they might be right.

I mean, we can’t rule it out, can we? As best I can tell, Islander fans are mainly mad at some combination of the NHL media, self-professed hockey experts and other fans in general. And let’s face it, those three groups are wrong about things all the time. I know I am. (Seriously, check out this masterpiece.) Therefore, I have to at least consider the possibility that Islander fans are right and the majority of us are wrong.

Still, I’m not sold. Let’s break down both sides of the argument, and see if we can separate the typical hockey homerism from the legitimate complaints. Are the Islander fans right and the hockey world is sleeping on a major story?

Islander fans might be right because: The Islanders have been really good this year. They’d won six straight before the streak was snapped on Tuesday and are on pace for 100 points at the midway mark. That would be up there with the best years the franchise has posted since the glory days of the early 80s, and even factoring in loser-point inflation, it’s an impressive total that has them in the thick of the Metro race.

The Islanders’ story isn’t just about points, either. Last year, they couldn’t keep the puck out of their own net, finishing dead last in goals allowed. This year, they’ve spent time leading the league in that category. That’s a remarkable turnaround that would deserve to be a major story even if it wasn’t being reflected in wins and losses (which it is).

And yet, other teams around them in the standings seem to get more buzz. The Penguins’ recent eight-game winning streak had everyone ready to declare them an elite team again, but the Islanders are right behind them, with games in hand. The Sabres were treated like big news when they were hot earlier in the year, the Canadiens are considered a great turnaround story. While teams like the Jets and Maple Leafs get anointed as Cup contenders even though they’re only a few wins head of New York.

Fair’s fair. Where’s the Islanders love?

Islander fans might be wrong because: Yes, they’ve been good this year. But this is the NHL in the age of parity and just being “good” doesn’t make you some sort of major story. Even after winning six straight, the Islanders are sitting tied for 14th in the overall standings, so they’re firmly in the middle of the pack. They’ve spent most of the streak barely holding down a wildcard spot and the Canadiens knocked them out of that on Tuesday. The Islanders do have games in hand on most of the teams around them, so you could say that they’re still a playoff team based on points percentage, but even then it’s not by much.

And again, that’s after a major winning streak, which we just saw the end of. Even at their apparent peak, the Islanders were merely a reasonably good team in a league clogged with them. That’s a nice story. It’s not something that national media is going to give front-page coverage too.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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