As the calendar turns to February the New York Islanders will begin week two (of six to eight) without the services of Kyle Okposo. A quick glance at the schedule reveals two things; the Isles will be extremely busy in February, with the schedule makers giving the Isles a generous 15 games in the year’s shortest month, but the teams on the schedule are predominantly weaker opponents, as only six games will be against teams currently in a playoff position, three of which are currently in a wild card spot.
No team should be asked what the Islanders are going to be asked to do this month, playing 15 games in a 26 day stretch, including three back to backs. I am aware that these men are world class athletes, but playing at a more than a game every other day pace over the course of a month is overkill. This team will have their toughness and their conditioning tested heavily this month, how they respond will teach the fan base a lot about the grit of this team going forward.
What this all really adds up to is that February will be the most important month of the regular season for the Isles. They must find a way to keep their head above water without Okposo anchoring the right wing spot on the top line, providing a steady running mate for John Tavares. There is never a good time for a prolonged injury to a top player, but considering the teams that the Isles will be facing off against this month, this is as close as it gets. In the next four weeks the Isles will square off against all of the five worst teams in the NHL, including two match-ups with the Carolina Hurricanes. These are games that the Isles should be able to claim two points from without Okposo in the lineup. Even when they aren’t playing the worst the league has to offer, they will seldom face the best, as they square off with only one team currently ahead of them and three others than are within five points in the standings.
Another factor working in the Isles favor is that they have a staggering ten home games scheduled for February. Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum has become a stronghold this season, with the Isles posting a 17-5-0 record in Uniondale. The team has done well to give the Coli a proper send off this season, and that trend continuing will go a long way towards the team maintaining their stranglehold on a playoff berth.
Every month is critical over the course of a season, but given the circumstances surrounding the Islanders right now it is clear that February will be the most important month on the calendar this season. The Isles find themselves in a great position, remaining there will be determined by their ability to cope with the rigors of a condensed set of games this month.