The New York Islanders return to action after two games were postponed because of the COVID-19 outbreak within the roster and essentially, are starting the season from scratch. After a grim November, where the Islanders lost eight consecutive games to close out the month, leaving them with five wins in the first 17 games of the season, the team will look to turn around their season and make up ground in the Metropolitan Division.
There are plenty of tough games in the upcoming month and a handful of opponents that can exploit flaws within the Islanders’ roster. At the same time, there are plenty of opponents that the Islanders can defeat and control both ends of the ice against, allowing them to get back on track on the difficult season thus far.
New Jersey Devils – Dec. 11
The Islanders learned from their first meeting with the New Jersey Devils, a 4-0 shutout loss, that they will be a tough matchup throughout the season. The Devils are an improved team that plays with speed in the offensive zone while also eliminating opponents from creating scoring chances with defensive acquisitions Ryan Graves and Dougie Hamilton leading the way.
The Islanders hit a wall in their last matchup, with Mackenzie Blackwood saving all 42 shots in the game, but the forward unit, which has struggled to start the season, will need to generate effective shots in the offensive zone even if they aren’t facing Blackwood. Moreover, the Islanders will need to control the game and defeat their rival with the hopes of building their record within the Metropolitan Division and competing in the Eastern Conference altogether.
Boston Bruins – Dec. 16
The Boston Bruins are a familiar opponent from last season, facing the Islanders eight times in the regular season and in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, where the Islanders defeated the Bruins in six games to advance to their second consecutive semifinal. The Bruins similarly have high expectations for the 2021-22 season and have one of the more talented rosters, led by some of the best players in the NHL including David Pastrnak, Taylor Hall, and Charlie McAvoy.
The Islanders will have to follow a similar blueprint that allowed them to defeat the Bruins in three consecutive games and advance to the second round last year. The Islanders must win with a strong forecheck in the offensive zone to control the puck and create quick scoring opportunities. Moreover, strong defensive play, especially in the offensive zone and the neutral zone, will allow the team to limit the Bruins forwards from finding open shots in the offensive zone and easy scoring opportunities.
Washington Capitals – Dec. 23
The Washington Capitals are playing great across the board, but have been particularly tough to stop with an offense that is scoring 3.57 goals per game. The Capitals find open skaters in the offensive zone with quick passes and great puck movement to pick apart the defense and allow scorers like Alexander Ovechkin to find open shots near the net. The Islanders have struggled to limit the potent offense, but the defensive unit and goaltending will have to step up and avoid surrendering easy scoring opportunities in order to win the game.
Other Big Games in December
The Islanders face the Detroit Red Wings three times in the month — a team that might not be Stanley Cup contenders or even make the playoffs by the end of the season, but have proven that they are a tough team to face on a nightly basis. The Islanders also play the Buffalo Sabres twice, a team that they were able to defeat in six of the eight meetings last season and will have to take advantage of to make up ground in the Eastern Conference standings. Ultimately, the upcoming month is going to be a pivotal one for the team to string together a bunch of wins and rebound on a tough start to the season.
Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November 2020 and covers the New York Islanders. In addition to covering the Islanders, Fink has written for multiple sports blogs and platforms covering the NHL, NFL, MLB, and college sports. Follow Mike on Twitter @Finks_thoughts for more Islanders and general hockey insights.