The New York Islanders are having a great season and with a 41-30-9 record, they are fighting for a wild card spot with only two games left in the regular season. They’ve been carried by great defense and world-class goaltending but the x-factors have helped turn them into a playoff team after a disappointing 2021-22 season. The players that have been pleasant surprises and stepped up have been the reason the Islanders have more often than not won the close games they’ve played in, giving them an edge over the other teams in the Eastern Conference.
The x-factors have helped the Islanders throughout the season but they’ll need to play at another level to help them secure a playoff spot. They control their own destiny but the next two games won’t be easy and will require the under-the-radar players to help win the upcoming games to secure a playoff spot.
Hudson Fasching has been a unique forward on the Islanders throughout the season. Since being called up for the Dec. 4, 3-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks, he has played everywhere in the forward unit from a top-six role to the fourth line. Along with being a pleasant surprise, he’s given the Islanders a powerful presence on the wing, something the team has lacked in recent seasons. Additionally, he has established himself as one of the more reliable skaters on the team, scoring eight goals and nine assists while contributing 1.1 defensive point shares with the help of his strong forecheck.
Fasching needs to continue to play at a high level and more importantly, provide an impact on the offensive end of the ice. While not a consistent threat, he’s scored two points in the last two games including a goal in the April 8, 4-0 win over the Philadelphia Flyers. Fasching adding that scoring presence to the wing will not only give the Islanders an edge in the final two games but also in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
At this point, Zach Parise’s excellence isn’t a surprise. Instead, it’s taken for granted. Since joining the Islanders in the 2021 offseason, he’s been one of the best skaters on the team. This year, he’s been one of their top goal scorers with 21 goals which is third-most behind only Brock Nelson and Anders Lee. He doesn’t have a great shot and isn’t the fastest skater but his instincts and hockey sense have made him a lethal threat in the offensive zone.
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In the next two games, the Islanders will need their oldest skater to be one of their best. The 38-year-old forward needs to carry the offense and find the back of the net in the upcoming games against the Washington Capitals and Montreal Canadiens. Both teams have struggled defensively and will provide open ice for Parise and he’ll need to take advantage and find the back of the net.
At the start of the season, Sebastian Aho didn’t appear to be the answer for the Islanders’ defense on the left side. Instead, the position looked like it was Robin Salo’s, especially after an impressive showing in training camp. However, he has not only taken over the position but he hasn’t looked back, emerging as one of the best two-way players on the team. He has 3.1 defensive point shares and 67 blocked shots as well as five goals, and 16 assists. When he was injured in the March 18, 4-1 win over the San Jose Sharks and missed six games, the team struggled, going 2-3-1 in his absence.
Aho needs to be the puck handler for the defense that he’s been all season. The Islanders’ defensive unit has been great all season but has lacked the puck-controlling presence outside of Aho and Noah Dobson, the other elite two-way skater on the unit. He’s the skater that can turn defense into instant scoring chances for the Islanders while also opening up the offense from the point.
Moreover, with Alexander Romanov out of the lineup, the Islanders will be without one of their best left-side defensemen. As a result, Aho will need to step up in the defensive zone and likely take on more ice time in the upcoming games. He’s played a depth role in the defense but for the Islanders to secure a playoff spot, he’ll need to play like a second-pair defenseman.
Other Islanders X-Factors
The fourth line will play a pivotal role in in the next two games. Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin, and Cal Clutterbuck have always given the Islanders an edge. They set the tone in a game, especially when they chip the puck into the offensive zone and create turnovers with their hard-hitting presence. While they won’t reliably find the back of the net, they will limit the opposition when they have the puck, even if their top line is on the ice.
To help add a scoring spark to the offense, the Islanders will rely heavily on the Pierre Engvall and Kyle Palmieri connection. Since he was acquired from the Maple Leafs, Engvall has been a scoring threat with five goals and four assists and he has notably thrived alongside the sharpshooting Palmieri, who has the fourth most goals on the Islanders with 16.
The Islanders have looked like a playoff team throughout the season. However, if they trip up in the final two games, they will see themselves missing the playoffs by only a few points. The final few games will require the entire team to step up and play at a high level to not only secure a playoff spot but also prepare them for a deep playoff run.