Islanders’ Remaining Schedule an Uphill Battle

Let’s face it. Since the New York Islanders’ 15-0-1 streak through mid-November, the team has been sub-par at best, and that’s being generous. With 15 games remaining on the schedule, the Metropolitan Division is still up for grabs, and by no means is the Stanley Cup Playoffs out of the question.

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Through April 4, the Islanders will come face-to-face with eight teams currently within a playoff position, including the Calgary Flames who they will play twice. Barry Trotz and Co. have the opportunity to take advantage of their remaining schedule, as they will go up against Metropolitan Division opponents six times, and if the team can capitalize on these games, it sure would help propel them in the standings. The Islanders are 11-9-1 against Metropolitan opponents this season.

Remaining Metropolitan Opponents

The Islanders will see the Pittsburgh Penguins, Carolina Hurricanes, Philadelphia Flyers, Columbus Blue Jackets, and New Jersey Devils twice. The good news is that the team has enjoyed a good amount of success against their Pennsylvania opponents. They are a combined 5-0-1 against the Flyers and Penguins this season.

Anders Lee Corban Knight
Anders Lee, New York Islanders, September 17, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In the six-game span against the Flyers and Penguins, the Islanders outscored their opponent 26-20. That six-goal differential isn’t much to brag about, as four of six matches went to overtime or a shootout. With the Flyers and the Penguins trending in an upward direction over the past month, the Islanders are going to have to do find their swagger again, and get back to the game that saw them collect 31 points in 16 games earlier this season.

“We’ve been a little bit of a different team because of our injury situation, so getting that identity is hard,” he said. “That doesn’t mean you don’t play a certain way. You play the game correctly, with and without the puck, and with a compete level you need this time of year. You’ve got to play the game that’s presented to you and some guys refuse to do that.

(from ‘Unacceptable’ effort forces Islanders to confront chance of missing playoffs, The Athletic, 03/3/2020)

The Blue Jackets and the Hurricanes have faced the same adversities this year that the Islanders have. Injuries have mounted for all parties, and overcoming those challenges hasn’t come easy. The Islanders have the Blue Jackets number this year, taking two of three games as both teams are still battling for a playoff spot. Much like the Islanders, the Blue Jackets are struggling of late, with a 2-4-4 record in their last 10 games played. Mat Barzal has five points (two goals, three assists) in the three outings against Columbus this season.

The Hurricanes have had the Islanders number since the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs when they swept the team in four games. So far, the Islanders are 0-1-2 against their Carolina opponent in 2019-20. Despite the Hurricanes’ unbelievable moment with David Ayers a few weeks ago, the team lost both of their goaltenders for the foreseeable future and the Islanders need to find a way to capitalize on the opportunity. (from ‘The Leafs didn’t ‘lose to a Zamboni driver’ — the Hurricanes won for Dave Ayres,’ The Athletic, 02/24/2020)

Justin Williams Carolina Hurricanes
Justin Williams of the Carolina Hurricanes celebrates after scoring the go-ahead goal against the New York Islanders. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

The Hurricanes are on the outside looking in of the second wild-card position that the Islanders hold by just three points, with the New York Rangers sitting between them. The Hurricanes own a Corsi-For percentage (CF%) of almost 55 percent and they have a game in hand, so the Islanders will have to find a way to out-possess and out-shoot their Metropolitan opponent.

In addition to their recent struggles, the Islanders have a bad habit of playing down to their opponent. They will see the Devils two times before the end of the season, and if the Isles are as good as they say they are, they need to make sure to collect four points against a bottom-five opponent. The Islanders are 1-1-0 against the Devils this season.

Mackenzie Blackwood has taken the majority of Devils starts in net with his improved play as of late. The 23-year-old netminder boasts an impressive .943 save percentage in his last five games played, a 3-0-1 record in that span. Veteran goaltender Cory Schneider also had a good February for the Devils, collecting three wins in four starts, including a shutout against the Anaheim Ducks.

Mathew Barzal
Mathew Barzal #13 of the New York Islanders controls the puck in front of Jesper Bratt #63 of the New Jersey Devils (Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images)

The Devils unloaded key players at the deadline such as Blake Coleman, Sami Vatanen, Wayne Simmonds and Andy Greene, who now wears an Islanders sweater. With so many holes in the New Jersey lineup, the Islanders have to walk away from both matchups with four points.

Additional Opponents through April

Outside the Metropolitan Division, the Islanders face four opponents who hold playoff positions in five out of seven games. The upcoming Canada road trip will prove to be one of the bigger tests for the team. Each of the Vancouver Canucks, Flames, and Edmonton Oilers hold playoff positions.

All three of the Canucks, Flames, and Oilers have a winning home record, with the Canucks being the best of the three at 21-8-4. The difference between first place and the wild card position in the Pacific Division is six points, therefore the division is still up for grabs. The Islanders have not seen the Flames so far this season, however, they have lost a matchup each to the Canucks in overtime, and the Oilers in regulation at home.

All three Canadian opponents are high-powered offensive teams, especially Edmonton who has Leon Draisaitl, the league’s leading goal scorer, and Connor McDavid. A road trip could help the chemistry of a team, and the Islanders have to hope they build some on the road against a difficult stretch of opponents.

Mikko Koskinen Anders Lee
Edmonton Oilers goaltender Mikko Koskinen corrals the puck in front of New York Islanders left wing Anders Lee (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Isles will then be headed to Toronto for an always colorful affair. In two matchups, they are 1-1-0 but have been outscored 7-5 by the Leafs. Toronto is sitting at third in the Atlantic, but are 4-5-1 in their last 10 games played, and are without No. 1 defenseman Morgan Reilly for some time now. The arrival of Jack Campbell has helped stabilize things in net for Toronto, but their defensive woes continue, and the Islanders will need to try and outscore this high powered offense.

The Must-Win Games

In addition to the Devils, the Buffalo Sabres, Montreal Canadiens, Minnesota Wild, and Chicago Blackhawks are opponents the Islanders must beat in their home stretch to the post-season. One of the Islanders’ worst qualities is playing down to their opponent, and they simply cannot afford to do so at this point.

The Islanders have already had Buffalo’s number this year, going 2-0 and out-scoring them 4-2. The Sabres are a sub-.500 team and outside of Captain Jack Eichel, they don’t pose as much of a threat. They’re 22nd in the league in goals for, and 21st in the league in goals against. Whereas the Islanders might not be that much better in the goal-scoring department, they are certainly better keeping the puck out of their own net and should be able to continue the success they have already seen against Buffalo this season.

The Montreal Canadiens were sellers at the trade deadline. They sent Marco Scandella to the St. Louis Blues, Nate Thompson to the Flyers and Ilya Kovalchuk to the Washington Capitals. Even before Montreal sold off at the deadline, the Islanders were certainly the better team, yet the Canadiens have their number this season anyway. In two matchups, the Islanders have been out-scored 10-4 and lost both games in regulation.

Now a different-looking team since Feb. 24, the Islanders need to secure two points from a team that declared their season over at the trade deadline.

Minnesota comes to Long Island as one of the hotter teams over their last 10 games. With a 7-3-0 record, the Wild are trending up, but still remain out of a playoff position. Surprising breakout performer Kevin Fiala has been red-hot, posting 10 points in his last 5 games played. Alex Stalock has been manning the net over veteran Devin Dubnyk more often than not and has collected four wins in his last five games.

Despite the recent struggles, the Islanders are still one of the league’s best in goals against at eighth in the league. The Wild sit in the middle of the league in goals for and the Isles need to shut down Fiala and Co. when they get to Long Island.

The Blackhawks are not what they used to be, and with Robin Lehner and Erik Gustafsson being shipped out a few weeks ago, Chicago understands they’re in a rebuild. (from ‘How exactly did the Blackhawks lose to the last-place Red Wings?,’ The Athletic, 03/07/2020) Patrick Kane is always going to put up points, with 82 so far this season. However, there is a far drop off between him and the next point scorer at 58, Jonathan Toews.

The Blackhawks sit toward the bottom of the league in both goals for and against, and have been playing about .500 hockey all season. In one tilt against Chicago, the Islanders dropped the game 5-2, another example of playing down to an opponent.

The Blackhawks are a lottery team, and the Islanders went all in when they acquired J.G. Pageau at the deadline, making this a must-win game for New York.

New York Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz
New York Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz looks on from behind the bench (Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports)

The Islanders for sure have an upward battle ahead of them, but by no means is it out of the question they can come out the other side with a playoff berth. Of the remaining schedule, no team has played substantially better hockey than the Islanders have this season, and if the team can end this current skid they are on, and get back to the Trotz system that has propelled them into the playoffs before, they can certainly do it again.