The New York Islanders are scheduled to return to the ice this week. Scheduled is the important word here. As we know in the age of COVID, things can change daily. A few Devils players have been added to the NHL's COVID protocol list recently. Immediately putting into question Thursday's game.
But, assuming the game is played there are a few things to look forward to as the Islanders return to the ice.
New York Islanders: 3 things to forward to
When the New York Islanders return on Thursday they'll be near full health. Sure, Ryan Pulock and Kyle Palmieri are still out with injury, but no one has been added to the COVID protocol for a while now. Meaning, we'll see a near full-strength Islanders squad hit the ice.
Does that mean we see, for the first time, Mathew Barzal and Oliver Wahlstrom lineup on the same line for a full game? Remember, both haven't played together for a while with the two flipping through COVID protocols. I would assume we do.
Putting them on the same line should be hugely impactful for the Isles. Both have been at the peak of their abilities prior to this recent break. Barzal has eight points in his last five games while Wahlstrom is sitting with six over his last five.
Needing consistent offense, this combination should give the Isles what they need when the games are back up.
Much is made of where the Islanders are in the standings at the moment. Truth be told, it doesn't look good. With 26 points in 28 games, the Isles are 12 points back from the Bruins in the final wild-card spot with three games in hand.
But the first concern for the Islanders is catching the teams immediately ahead of them. Over the next seven games, the Isles will play three games against teams immediately ahead of them in the standings.
First is New Jersey (sixth in the Wild Card race to the Isles seventh) on Thursday and then three games against the Flyers (fifth in the Wild Card race to the Isles, again, seventh) on Monday the 17th, Tuesday the 18th, and the following Tuesday the 25th.
That's six points up for grabs. Winning four points (rounding up that 0.636 pts% since December )on the six points up for grabs would get the Isles much closer to these two teams who are immediately above them in the standings and may lead to them leapfrogging over both by the end of the month.
The march towards a playoff spot begins when they return. Not only in some metaphorical sense, but literally because they face the teams directly in front of them in the standings.
I've gone on record saying the Islanders power-play success of late isn't sustainable. I want to be wrong. But a 30+% efficiency power play is just way too good for the Islanders.
In their first week back, they'll play the Devils, Capitals, Flyers (twice) before taking on the Leafs a few days later. On the PK, those teams rank 13th, 8th, 18th, and 5th, respectively. Those are some solid PK units that will test the Isles' red hot power play.
I know this post is about "looking forwards to three things" and people don't tend to look forward to a challenge. But in this sense I am. If the Islanders can maintain that power play success in this upcoming stretch of games, it would go a long way to convince me the Isles power play might be fixed.