The 2022-23 season is only a few weeks away, and the New York Islanders enter the year looking to rebound from the 2021-22 season, where they missed the playoffs. Their schedule won’t determine if the Islanders will make the playoffs or be a Stanley Cup contender, but a favorable schedule will at least help them this season. First-year head coach Lane Lambert will have to manage the team through some tough stretches and specifically, stretches that can define the season.
Last season, the Islanders saw a tough slate of games that ultimately defined their season. The 13-game road trip to start off the season left the team behind in the standings, and a slow start was one of the primary factors in the disappointing year.
This year, the longest road trip the Islanders face is only five games, and the schedule altogether is more favorable for them, albeit with a tougher Metropolitan Division. However, a few weeks will determine if this team is capable of bouncing back, starting with the first week of the season.
Islanders Opening Week
Last year’s slow start is a grim reminder that you might not clinch a playoff spot in the first month but you can certainly be eliminated from contention. The Islanders started the 2021-22 season with a 5-10-5 record and couldn’t recover in the standings despite a respectable second half of the season. With this in mind, the Islanders will look to kick off the season both playing well and with an above .500 record.
The opening night game is against the Florida Panthers which will be a tough test but an intriguing matchup at the same time. The Panthers won the Presidents’ Trophy last season with the best record in the NHL and once again look poised to be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. However, they aren’t the same team as they traded Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar in exchange for Matthew Tkachuk and they changed head coaches with Paul Maurice behind the bench. Furthermore, after winning the Presidents’ Trophy, it’s hard seeing them replicating their success from last season.
The Panthers will be a tough test for the Islanders but after the opening night game, the schedule becomes more favorable in the first week of the season. In the next three games, the Islanders face the Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, and the New Jersey Devils, three opponents that have young and promising players but struggled last year. Another interesting contrast is that the first four games in the opening week at all home games, allowing the team to build a home ice advantage and more importantly, a winning record.
Pacific Road Trip (Jan. 1 – Jan. 6)
Arguably the toughest part of the schedule, especially for the east coast teams, is the Pacific Division road trip. The Islanders have a three-game stretch in March where they face the Los Angeles Kings, Ducks, and Sharks. However, the four games following New Year’s Day are against the Seattle Kraken, Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, and the Calgary Flames.
The Oilers and Flames are two teams that are pivotal for the Islanders to play well against as they both look poised to be two of the best teams in the Pacific Division. Furthermore, the Alberta road trip has given them woes in the past seasons with the Islanders losing both their games last year on back-to-back nights and failing to win in the province under head coach Barry Trotz.
In addition, the Flames are an intriguing matchup considering the splash they made in the offseason, signing Nazem Kadri, a player many thought that the Islanders were going to sign. The matchup can prove that the Islanders didn’t need to pay for a player like Kadri but conversely, the veteran center can make his mark in what can become a revenge game.
Ultimately, the four-game stretch is going to be the biggest obstacle in the Islanders’ season. Three losses or multiple games without points can set the Islanders back in the Metropolitan Division and hurt their chances of reaching the playoffs. The road trip out west can cause any team to slip up, and the Islanders will have to enter those four games playing some of their best hockey to prevent that from happening.
Islanders Five-Game Homestand
Fortunately, the Islanders return from their four-game Pacific Division road trip with a five-game homestand. To make up for the four road games, they host the Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, Montreal Canadiens, Washington Capitals, and Boston Bruins. The homestand doesn’t mean that the Islanders catch a break. On the contrary, they face some of the best teams and possibly the best players in the league, including David Pastrnak, Kirill Kaprizov, and Alexander Ovechkin.
However, this stretch of games allows the team to establish a home ice advantage and pile up a few wins in the process. The Islanders never acclimated themselves to UBS Arena last season, playing their first home game on Nov. 20 and still settling into the new environment. After a year of adjusting to the new setting, the team can take advantage of their arena and with a five-game homestand, can take advantage. This stretch is one that the Islanders can string together multiple wins and ultimately, help propel them in the Metropolitan Division standings.
Penguins-Bruins-Penguins (Feb. 17 – Feb. 20)
Some of the more important games in the latter half of the season will be against the divisional opponents. In one weekend, the Islanders host the Penguins, face the Bruins on the road, and then face the Penguins on the road. The Bruins entered the offseason as a team looking poised to take a step back, but after re-signing Patrice Bergeron and keeping the core players together, they are expected to contend for a playoff spot in the Atlantic Division.
The Penguins meanwhile are a team that will be elbowing for playoff position in the Islanders division throughout the season. This offseason, they managed to re-sign Kris Letang, Evgeni Malkin, and Bryan Rust keeping a star-studded team together for another season. The Islanders specifically have trouble with the Penguins’ speed and skill at the forward position with Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel constantly gashing the defense for big plays on the rush. In a few days, the Islanders will essentially play their season series against them in consequential games for a team looking to reach the playoffs.
Other Notes in Islanders Schedule
The big break for the Islanders is that there isn’t a big road trip, unlike last season. Likewise, the Islanders catch a break with a significantly lighter schedule to close out the season, playing only six games in the final 12 days and only 18 games in the final two months of play. In contrast, the team played 33 games in March and April combined last year, and the surplus of games inevitably affected them as they missed the playoffs.
The tough part of the schedule for the Islanders, however, is the back-to-back games throughout the year. Among them are the Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning, the Carolina Hurricanes and the Colorado Avalanche, and the Flames and New York Rangers, just to name a few. The Islanders’ schedule will be a tough one with a more competitive division and Eastern Conference but a more balanced one than last year, which should favor them in a rebound season.
Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November 2020 and covers the New York Islanders. In addition to covering the Islanders, Fink writes about the NHL at large and contributes as a weekly guest to The Hockey Writers Podcast. Follow Mike on Twitter @Finks_thoughts for more Islanders and general hockey insights.