This has been a strange season, hasn't it been?
Evert stretch has felt different than the last. The Islanders have won and lost games in all types of fashion, from third-period comebacks to not being able to score more than two goals. From blowing leads to shutting out opponents more than any team in the league, it's been a bit of everything for Lane Lambert's team in his first season as an NHL coach.
But something has changed in the last week.
The Islanders have found a style of play that has created consistency in how they approach each game. For the first time all season, it feels like we know what type of Islanders effort we are going to get when the game starts. Not surprisingly, that "new" style is their old one, but one they have had difficulty recapturing until now.
“I think we’re doing a lot of good things,” head coach Lane Lambert said after Saturday's 4-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings at UBS Arena. “Every game, as I’ve said before, is an individual entity… but I like the way our team is playing, and I like our thought process and how we’re playing, and we need to continue to do that.”
It started in Winnipeg following a flat 3-2 loss at home versus the Los Angeles Kings. The Islanders smothered the Jets on the road from the onset, allowing just one first-period shot, and didn't allow much thereafter, even after taking a 2-0 and 3-0 lead and falling back to protect the lead.
Next, against the Minnesota Wild, the team that most closely resembles Barry Trotz's version of the team, the Isles were every bit their equals, as time and space were difficult to find in a tight 1-1 game that stayed that way for over two periods until things opened up during 3-on-3 overtime.
"I think you've seen it at times all season, but I think there's definitely times when we got away from it too," defenseman Scott Mayfield said last week. "We know how we need to play; we play a very structured game. So that's we're at our best. You did see it in the last couple games. I think we've gotten into the structure pretty quick. We've kind of played that physical style that we like to play, and I think the commitment has been there."
That structure continued in Saturday's win over Detroit. The Red Wings had a 1-0 lead after two period, but just 12 shots on goal. The Islanders were the better team from puck drop, but it took more than 40 minutes for the scoreboard to reflect it.
The Islanders are now 4-1-1 without Mathew Barzal. Maybe it was out of necessity that the rest of the team started playing the structured style they've missed all season long, but whatever the reason, it's what is giving the Islanders a chance to stick in playoff position the rest of the way.