The New York Islanders’ dazzling home record of 18-2-2 this season is a huge reason why they’re in a neck-and-neck battle with the Washington Capitals for first place in the MassMutual East Division. It’s not uncommon for a team’s home record to be better, if only slightly, than their road record. However, the Islanders are 9-9-2 away from Nassau Coliseum with eight of 14 games on the road to end the season, often against teams fighting for a playoff spot or jockeying for position. If the Islanders want to lock down home-ice advantage, they’ll need to capitalize on the road from here on out.
The Islanders had three days off this week, a luxury in this season’s schedule, which was beneficial. They earned a day away from the rink on Monday after four games in six nights, starting goaltender Semyon Varlamov continues a nearly week-long break between games, and it allowed newcomers Kyle Palmieri, Travis Zajac, and, to a lesser extent, defenseman Braydon Coburn to get better acclimated to their new team. They’ll need to get things figured out quickly given the upcoming schedule, as even head coach Barry Trotz recognized the rest of the division and the teams they’ll be facing in the first and second round improved at the trade deadline.
The Islanders’ next three games are on the road, beginning with a back-to-back against the Boston Bruins, who are fresh off their addition of Taylor Hall and have two young goalies brimming with confidence after recent victories. Even if Hall needs to get his confidence back after a tough go the last couple of seasons, particularly in Buffalo, there’s almost no doubt he’ll find his game with the Bruins alongside David Krejci. New York has played well against the Bruins all season and has a clean 5-0-0 record against Boston.
This bodes well for the Islanders, as the Bruins have been one of the few teams they’ve been able to beat away from Long Island. And while their young goalies are playing well, the Islanders have found plenty of ways to score against the Bruins all season, even with the tandem of Tukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak in net. With their added offensive depth, New York can really take it to Boston in the next two games.
After the Bruins, the Islanders face the Philadelphia Flyers, a thorn in their side dating back to last season’s second-round playoff series. The two teams match up well against one another, so it’s no surprise the Islanders have let a few points slip away this season. But at 4-1-2 against Philadelphia, there’s hope the team can close out the season series on a high note, especially when you consider the Flyers were sellers at the deadline and followed that up with a poor performance against the East-Division-leading Capitals earlier this week. This is a veteran group that still has a chance to make the playoffs, so it wouldn’t be wise to count them out. The Islanders have a habit of playing down to their opponents, so a clean regulation win will not only help them in the standings but will allow them to build poise on the road and take care of business.
It’ll be important for the Islanders to build their confidence on the road heading into the playoffs. Stealing a game or two as the away squad is critical to postseason success, so if the Islanders can build momentum in the remaining 14 games, they’ll be in good shape. The next three games will also be a good indication if their new players can move the needle, though they’ll only get more comfortable with time. This is as deep an Islanders team as we’ve seen in a long time, and they’re set to make another deep run.
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Jon Zella is a 31-year-old, Long Island native currently living in Syracuse, NY. Outside of hockey, he enjoys motorcycles, beer, coffee, and his dog Olive.