It’s August and the countdown to October continues. Here’s a look at some games that can’t be missed in the first half of the New York Islanders’ 2016-17 season.
October 14th at the New York Rangers
This game should seem like a gimme because, duh, Rangers. This rivalry is at its best when both teams are at their peak and I’m not sure that’s the case this season if only because the Rangers have done less than the Islanders when it comes to improvement this offseason. This game has meaning, however, for three big reasons.
One, it’s the first game of the season and YES YES YES for the return of hockey. Two, the Islanders swept a regular season series against the Rangers for the first time in their history so the Rangers have some face to save. The last reason, and maybe this is just some projecting, but the Islanders indirectly (or not) helped the Rangers become the first team in the Penguins string of beat downs for the Cup. So payback? We’ll see.
October 27th at the Pittsburgh Penguins
The Pittsburgh Penguins embarrassed the Islanders in their house when they last met. Embarrassment might even be too kind a description of that debacle back in March. Since their playoff series in 2013, the Islanders have generally brought their A game against the Pens. The 2014-15 Penguins couldn’t figure the Islanders out and it seems that role was reversed this past season. The Isles only squeezed one shootout win from the Cup champs.
This game is one of a few measuring sticks for the Islanders. The Penguins had it firing on all cylinders once Mike Sullivan took control of the team. They are fast and owned possession in the playoffs. If the Islanders are going to compete in the division, they have to show they can (and will) compete against this team and it starts here.
November 1st, Tampa Bay Lightning
Listen. This is a rematch pure and simple. This is Brian Boyle returning to Barclays Center and the Islanders absolutely have to come out hard and come out tough. The Islanders are an enigma when it comes to the way they play the Lightning, alternating between barely showing up to taking every minute to them. The inconsistency is maddening, but if they play this game for nothing else, there’s got to be some pride involved here. There should be a whole lot of pride. And I wouldn’t particularly mind if Travis Hamonic did a little dance on Boyle’s head – just sayin’.
November 12th at the Florida Panthers
This is a no-brainer. This is the first game between these teams since the Islanders dramatically eliminated the Panthers from the playoffs. It’s a mental game for the Panthers for sure and the Islanders have to keep their heads on. The Panthers have an aggressive GM who is constantly addressing their needs and a coach who lost a series to a hot goalie and a superstar’s force of will. There are feelings here.
Historically the Islanders have struggled with the Panthers and have a regular season record of 3-4-2 in the past three years. Like the Penguins, they are a measuring stick for success in the Eastern Conference but they differ from the Pens with their size and toughness. The Islanders have to show up and compete with this team otherwise, there’s going to be a lot of reliving John Tavares’ series winning OT goal just to get through the season.
October 30th/Toronto Maple Leafs, December 4th/Detroit Red Wings, December 23/Buffalo Sabres
Take your pick here. These are all sentimental. In much the same way Matt Moulson’s return to the Coliseum was sentimental, so is Matt Martin’s, Kyle Okposo’s, and Frans Nielsen’s returns to Brooklyn. We fully expect the video montages, some USA chants, and ovations despite the bittersweet nature of their returns and how it will feel to see these guys in other sweaters. And take that first Martin hit.
These games have other meaning, though. These teams aren’t in the same echelon as the Panthers, Penguins, or Lightning but these are still games the Islanders need to win and these are all teams that the Islanders struggled with last season. The Maple Leafs outworked the Isles and showed what a well-coached team can do. The Sabres are growing and getting stronger and can boast about their deepening lineup. In the two games the Isles lost to the Wings, they were outscored 9-3.
We’ve got measuring sticks against the League’s best and the rest of the pack. These games will be a first half show of what Islanders team we’re going to see all season.