By now, the New York Islanders must know what’s been predicted for their season. There’s no denying that they are in one of the toughest divisions. Their rivals The New York Rangers are predicted to be first in the Atlantic Division, if not first in Eastern Conference like last season. A healthy Sidney Crosby led Penguins will be a formidable challenge and another favorite to win the Stanley Cup. The Flyers are expected to continue to be one of the top Eastern Conference’s teams again, and even though they’ve lost Zach Parise, the New Jersey Devils are still the reigning Easter Conference champions. It’s understandable the Isles are oft predicted to finish last in the Atlantic. As pundits toss them off to another slow rebuilding season, the team and their fans understand and suffer from the realization they haven’t reached the post-season since 2007. If they miss this it again it will be six long years since the team even had the slightest chance to play for the Stanley Cup. We won’t even throw in the fact that this spring marks the twentieth anniversary since the underdog 1993 Islanders knocked out Mario Lemieux’s reigning two-time championship Penguins… AKA the last time the Islanders won a playoff series. The only hope is for John Tavares and the Islanders to catch their conference foes by surprise with a fast, winning start.
A New Season with New Challenges
A 48 game season already suggests an intense game-to-game grind, but throw in the fact we live in the shootout era where each game has the potential to be three point games for teams in direct competition for each playoff position, means teams will struggle to pull ahead of each other. This also means a losing streak of regulation losses while other teams are gaining one to two point per game can be quite devastating. It will be even harder to make up ground right from the beginning. This is the major reason why the first ten games of the Islanders season are so pivotal for them to have success, or be another draft lottery year as they wait for the sliver linings of Brooklyn in 2015.
Breakdown of The Islanders’ First Ten Games
The Islanders open the season at home against their local rivals the New Jersey Devils. In fact, in the first ten games they face the Devils three times. The Isles were 2-6 against the Devils last season, with three of those games won or loss by only one goal. They are a team the Islanders must step up against and steal some early divisional points. The home opener is a great chance to make a statement and show their fans this is a team worth watching now.
Their second game of the season is on the road against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos are historically Islander killers, but this is a team that didn’t make the playoffs last season. The teams split their contests last season 2-2, including two five-to-one wins for the Isles. This is an excellent opportunity to face a bubble team early.
Game three continues the road trip against the Maple Leafs, a team with as many questions as the Islanders going into this season. Last season the Islanders were 1-3-1 against the Leafs. They’ll have to greatly improve their record versus a team they’ll be clawing for a lower playoff spot against. All the points matter against teams like the Leafs, Lightening, and Jets.
The fourth game is a definite challenge as they will be on the road against the Boston Bruins. Last season they went 1-3 as the Isles were overwhelmed by the Bruins who scored twenty goals in four games. The Isles squeezed out a win early in March, when it was too little too late. This will be a tough match up, but a quality test for the young Isles.
In the fifth game the Isles face Jets on the road. Again, this is a team that missed the playoffs last season. This should be a winnable game. The Isles went 3-1 against the Jets and matched up well against them. However, they were helped with big goals by departed winger P.A. Parentaeau and one of those wins was in a shootout. They don’t want to give any points to a team like the Jets that they can beat in regulation.
Game six and nine are againsts the Penguins, who over the last few seasons, the Isles have risen up to play hard. (Save for Sidney Crosby’s first post-concussion return in November 2011, when he personally rolled over the Isles). The Isles were 2-5-1 against the Pens last year and must improve this year. They will need to step up and win at least one of these first two early contests.
Game 7 and 8 are back-to-backs with the Devils… Imagining a scenario where they can defeat the Devils three times in January would be deadly to the Devils playoff hopes, but the scenario where the Isles lose three games to the Devils in the first month is a distinct and painful possibility too.
Their tenth game will be at Madison Square Garden, in a tilt against the Rangers. Islanders-Rangers games are typically hard-boiled affairs, regardless of the standings. For the Islanders, where they stand at the ten game mark will be far more pivotal for them than the Rangers. Last season the Isles were 2 -3 – 1 against the Rangers with one of those a shootout winner. Chances are the Isles will not be competing for a spot against the Rangers who seem locked for a top seed. These are games where there is less concern whether they go into overtime or shootouts. All that matters is the full two points up for grabs. This game will show the Isles how they match up against the projected top team in the East. Their record at this point will dictate if they are serious contenders for a playoff spot.