The New York Islanders have their prime objective within their reach; the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. If the season were to end today, the Isles would be the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference.
Although a first-round matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning wouldn’t be the ideal scenario for the New York Islanders, they will take whatever they can get. The Islanders have matched up well against the Lightning so far this season. After winning their first matchup in convincing fashion (5-3), they lost 6-2 after an evenly played first two periods in their second meeting.
In order for the Islanders to shock the NHL world and knock off a one-seed, they’ll first need to make it to the dance. The New York Islanders remaining opponents have an average winning percentage of .567. That leaves the Islanders tied for the 4th toughest remaining schedule.
If the Isles want to get into the playoffs, they’ll have to be on their game night in and night out. After a big win versus Winnipeg leading into the holiday break, the Islanders had to win tonight at home against Buffalo. Thanks to another dose of heroics from Mathew Barzal, they didn’t let the opportunity slip away.
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Looking ahead, the Isles have another matchup with a tough Winnipeg Jets team Friday, in Winnipeg. They then travel to Denver to take on the Avalanche on Sunday night. If the New York Islanders want to be truly ready for the intense journey that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs, they’ll need to prove that they can win on the road against top competition.
Time to step it up, boys…
If the New York Islanders want to play for Lord Stanley’s punch bowl, they’ll need star performances from their star players. At this point, John Tavares showing up to play is as sure a thing as the sun rising tomorrow. Josh Bailey and Ders (Anders Lee) have been as close to automatic as one could hope for. As long as the first line keeps this play up, the Islanders will stay competitive.
For the Isles to truly shine, they’ll need the supporting cast to step up to the challenge and deliver. The Barzal/Ladd/Eberle line has been just as productive as the first line and slightly more exciting to watch this year. Jordan Eberle has to be one of the most effective pickups made by the New York Islanders since Ryan Smyth in 2007. The way he’s been able to build chemistry with his linemates, as well as the special teams units he plays on, has been an amazing process to watch.
Despite Brock Nelson‘s underwhelming play as of late, the third and fourth lines have performed admirably. Anthony Beauvillier seems to be coming around and Casey Cizikas has been an anchor for the back-end of the rotation. Jason Chimera tallied a goal in last night’s win, which was nice to see. He’ll need to start consistently producing at a high level to justify his roster spot.
In the Islanders D-fence
The New York Islanders defensive play has not suffered as much as some thought it would in the absence of Calvin de Haan. Johnny Boychuk is back to being himself, looking healthy and quite feisty since returning from injury. Nick Leddy continues to blossom, looking like one of the top defensemen in the NHL.
Adam Pelech and Scott Mayfield have been handed a lot more responsibility with de Haan being out for the season. They’ll need to adjust and adapt to the higher level of play they’ll be facing as the second pairing. Another wrinkle to this pairing will be their chemistry. Both Pelech and Scotty Mayfield have shown flashes of brilliance in the past so hopefully, they will make the necessary adjustments to succeed.
The New York Islanders goaltending has been shaky, to say the least. All season long fans have been clamoring for improved (and consistent) play between the pipes. While the Islanders lead the league in goals scored, they also lead the NHL in goals allowed.
In his defense, over the last two games, Halak has looked a lot better. After looking solid in the win against Winnipeg on Christmas Eve, he turned in another decent performance in Brooklyn with a win over the Sabres. He’ll need to improve on his .908 save percentage in order to keep the Islanders in the race for a playoff spot.
Thomas Greiss has taken a step back this year. That’s not news. It almost seems as if the 1a/1b system that Doug Weight has incorporated this year for his goaltenders has shaken Greiss’ confidence. He’s played well enough in the past to know that he’s better than the .883 goals against average he’s carrying this season.
Moves on the horizon?
For the New York Islanders to make the playoffs, they’ll need to perform at the highest level they’re capable of. Would an upgrade to their defensive corps be the piece that puts this team over the top? Is it the goaltending that needs shoring up? There are certainly more than a few available upgrades to be had at both positions.
A helpful as a move in one of these directions may be, the move that may have the biggest effect on this team may be the move not made. The chemistry developing among not just the individual lines, but throughout the entire team itself, feels like something special. Would the addition of a top 4 defenseman ruin that chemistry? I’m not sure, but I assume there’s only one way to figure that out.