Earlier this week, the New York Islanders ended the fourth-longest winless streak in franchise history at 11 games. The narrative quickly turned positive following their win against the Ottawa Senators as the Islanders will seek a path towards a fourth consecutive playoff berth. Riding a four-game point streak (1-0-3) into tonight’s matchup with the Nashville Predators, their future is in their hands. Can they seize the opportunity?
Islanders Season Turnaround Awaits
The Islanders are starting a stretch of eight of their next ten games at UBS Arena, with one to six games in hand on everyone in the Eastern Conference. This is good news, especially when you look at the wild card positions. The Detroit Red Wings are 12 points ahead, but the Islanders have five games in hand. A major hurdle for the foreseeable future will be the Boston Bruins, who also have games in hand on everyone in the conference, save for the Islanders. They’ve found ways to collect points despite struggling at times and will be the team to keep pace with moving forward.
The good news is, the Islanders play Detroit twice this month and Boston once, giving them a really great opportunity to make up some ground against the teams they’re competing against in the standings. There are also a ton of “prove it” games against some top teams, which could help the team build some confidence and add to the win column.
Islanders Have Good News & Big Question Marks
It’s been nice to see J.G. Pageau and Anders Lee get on the board recently, but it was just as good to see Oliver Wahlstrom score a nifty goal at even strength against the Senators. He’s been a huge reason the power play has seen a resurgence over the last few games, and a return to form could be a huge reason the Islanders claw their way back in the playoff conversation.
Mathew Barzal is on a bit of a point streak – another good sign for a team that was heavily outscored during their winless skid. But concerns remain about Kyle Palmieri and Anthony Beauvillier. Palmieri has just one goal this season and two points in the last 12 games. He has been finding his way to the net and getting opportunities recently but to no avail. His shooting percentage has dipped drastically over the last few seasons, save for last year’s playoff run, raising eyebrows as to his ability to get back to form. It also led some to revisit exposing Jordan Eberle, who’s having a great season for the Seattle Kraken.
Beauvillier is also a question mark at the moment. Goalless in 13 and pointless in 12, Beauvillier needs to be a bigger piece of the Islanders’ puzzle on offense if they have any chance at a playoff spot, especially with Brock Nelson still on the shelf for a little while longer. His lackadaisical shootout attempt against the Chicago Blackhawks and lack of the speed and tenacity he’s known for is tough for Islander fans to swallow as the team is starved for energy.
The team did get some good news on Thursday with the return of the aforementioned Nelson along with Casey Cizikas back to the ice for practice. Neither will be back against the Predators, but head coach Barry Trotz did say the two were “days away” during Thursday’s media availability.
There’s a lot of chatter about Zach Parise this season, which feels a little uncalled for. Yes, he hasn’t been able to find the back of the net despite breakaways and clear looks at the net, but that’s not why he’s here. He was brought in to be a veteran presence, help on the penalty kill, and play with defensive awareness. Not to score goals. The projection of this offensive expectation comes from the rest of the team not performing, not about what he was brought in to do. He should be providing gravy goals, not helping to get the team on the board at all.
Defenseman Ryan Pulock is still out for at least the next few weeks, but the continued growth of Noah Dobson, who plays his 100th game tonight against the Predators, has been a welcomed development as the team waits to get back to full strength. “We knew who we were getting with Dobber, it was just going to take some time,” fellow defenseman Scott Mayfield said on Thursday. “He has the talent and the skating and the skill… He’s a special player to watch, so it’s nice to see him come into his stride.” Dobson’s game-tying goal against the Chicago Blackhawks showed how far he’s come just over the last few games. Many have been hard on the young defender, but he’s taken a step forward as of late, and the Islanders are loving it.
Trotz on his team’s resilience: “It’s incredible to think what we’ve gone through in the last month,” Trotz said following Tuesday night’s win against Ottawa. “I’ve never gone through it. These guys have never gone through it. The way we stuck together and battled, I have to give them a lot of credit.”
Lee on the Islanders breaking the skid: “There’s a sense of relief. It’s been a tough stretch and we stuck together. We started building our game the last few nights… it starts to wear on you quite a bit… To get the win… that’s exactly what we needed.”
Trotz on if it feels like things are getting back to normal: “It does a little bit because we’re starting to play games at a regular pace. We’ve got to get everybody back.”
Mayfield on trusting their game the last four games: “A big part of our game is just believing in our systems and our work ethic. It was tough with guys out of the lineup. It’s all about finding the wins now.”
The storyline heading forward is almost certainly how the Islanders can take advantage of their situation, which feels weird to say considering where they are in the standings. In addition, getting their roster back to full strength before the end of the month is a must if they’re going to make any sort of run to the playoffs. Until then, plenty of players have an opportunity to help carry this team forward until it’s back to full strength.
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.