The New York Islanders are in the midst of a wild playoff ride. The Isles will be fighting for the last Wild Card sport, and with a plethora of teams to battle, goal differential will make or break the Isles chances.
The Islanders head into Chicago with a -1 goal differential. They went into the All-Star break as the only team with an even differential, and it has been a rollercoaster ride since. Their goal differential varies between positive and negative based on the game they play.
The Isles were trending upwards before that game against the Blue Jackets but were quickly sent back into the negative goal differential range. Of course, that was a nightmare of a game and they lost 7-0. Sending the differential back down below zero.
The Islanders were a -8 under Jack Capuano this season. Since Doug Weight was named interim coach they are +7. These numbers would be even better if they didn’t have two stinkers against the Blue Jackets and Toronto Maple Leafs. In those two games, the Isles were a combined -13.
Looking at the playoff picture The Islanders and Maple Leafs each have 70 points. The Maple Leafs are a +4 and the Isles are a -1. If you erase the game the Maple Leafs won 7-1, the Islanders would be a +5 and Toronto would be a -2.
Remember, goal differential matters when it comes to tiebreakers for standings.
What Does it all Mean
There are a handful of teams fighting for playoff spots. For teams in the Atlantic Division they may still have a chance at a divisional spot, but unfortunately, the Isles are probably looking at the eight wild card spot at best.
Trying to separate contenders from pretenders, I would look at teams sitting between +10 and -10 as the real players for the playoffs. This would mean the playoff fight is between the Islanders (-1), Maple Leafs (+4), and Lightning (+1). The Senators ( 0 ) and Bruins (+9) currently sit second and third in the Atlantic, but they may be in play for the wild card with a bad run of form.
The Panthers currently have 69 points but they also sit at a -17. They traded for Thomas Vanek at the trade deadline so maybe their goal numbers will pick up. For the time being, I’m not going to worry about them.
The race for the playoffs is a crowded field. Goal differential may be the just the tool we need to paint a more clear picture. One thing for certain is the Islanders just need to keep winning and grown that differential so it’s can be to their advantage rather than not.