The Islanders were flat at home Tuesday night, falling to 3-1 to a surging Calgary Flames team that is now 6-2-2 in their last 10 games. Mikael Backlund scored 3:15 into the third frame to break the tie and Rasmus Andersson tacked on an insurance goal less than two minutes later, leading the Flames to victory at a sold out NYCB Live!
Josh Bailey notched his 14th goal of the campaign thanks to a pass from Valteri Filppula and a nifty defensive-zone steal from alternate captain Andrew Ladd (15 games played (GP), plus-three), who returned to action from injury for the first time since Nov. 13. Thomas Hickey (33 GP, plus-seven), who hadn’t seen regulation ice time since Dec. 17, also returned to the lineup, logging 14:48 of ice time.
Ladd and Hickey—key offensive components and veteran locker room leaders—were the lone upgrades the Islanders made to their everyday lineup in anticipation of their remaining 21 regular-season games. Once the 3 p.m. trade deadline came and went, general manager Lou Lamoriello implored to the media that his team ought to see today’s stet as a vote of confidence in the group. Moreover, he wants the players to recognize the level of talent that’s returning to their lineup.
“The quality of players that both of them are, you know, it’d be pretty tough to add those two types of players at a trade deadline right now,” Lamoriello told the press this afternoon at the Islanders’ practice facility.
One D Too Many: Mayfield Out, Hickey In
Lamoriello and head coach Barry Trotz chose to send Scott Mayfield to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in order to make room for Thomas Hickey, straying from Lamoriello’s original deadline day message that the team will defect rookie defenseman Devon Toews upon Hickey’s return. Toews, who turned 25 this past Thursday, saw his five-game point streak conclude Tuesday night against Calgary.
He has notched two game-winning goals since being recalled from the AHL on Dec. 23, including an overtime-winner against the Chicago Blackhawks in January for his first NHL goal. Mayfield has played well himself, though, picking up 17 points in 61 games while maintaining a whopping plus-17.
Mayfield and Toews have also spent time practicing alongside former Islander Dennis Seidenberg, whom the team signed Monday after a season-long professional tryout. Now Mayfield (or Toews) will likely put in minutes alongside Seidenberg in the AHL, since the defensemen have spent the last three months of home practices skating together.
Seidenberg is a depth signing and will likely not see any time with the big club this season. But if the Isles lose any defensemen to injury, the former Stanley Cup champion’s veteran presence will hold value over many of his inexperienced peers. After all, the team’s only defenseman beyond 30 years old, besides Thomas Hickey, is Johnny Boychuk.
Lou Lamoriello Believes in the Islanders’ Core
Despite several days of grumblings about Lamoriello being in on trade talks for Mark Stone and Antemi Panarin, the Hockey Hall of Famer chose not to bet the house on the top-level forwards who were available until Monday afternoon. Lamoriello seemed to have two objectives: a) sustain team chemistry, and b) act only if the juice is worth the squeeze. As the clock ran dry, those precursors seemed to outweigh the team’s need to bolster its forward depth on the power play, which is ranked 21st in the NHL. The Islanders man-advantage was blanked once again Tuesday night, failing to score on its four opportunities.
“You have to be extremely careful at this time, because whenever you add somebody, it takes away from somebody else, and somebody moves to a different spot,” Lamoriello explained. “You don’t do something just the sake of doing it.”
Per Arthur Staple’s most recent piece for The Athletic, prior to Matt Duchene being dealt to the Columbus Blue Jackets, Lamoriello turned down a deal with the Ottawa Senators that would have sent Duchene to Long Island in exchange for a 2019 first-round draft pick and Anthony Beauvillier (from “Pleased with where we are: Reading between the lines’ of Islanders quiet deadline day”- The AthleticNHL – 2/25/19). According to The Fourth Period‘s David Pagnotta, the Islanders also attempted to shop Beauvillier to Ottawa in exchange for Stone, but offered a smaller average annual value than the Vegas Golden Knights, who ultimately nabbed and re-signed the now-former Senator.
Beauvillier has played a vital role for the Islanders the past two seasons, albeit with some inconsistencies this campaign. Sophomore slump or not, the 15th-overall pick is on-pace to score 20 goals for the second straight season. He registered zero shots on goal Tuesday.
Fans would have likely celebrated this trade as a “win now” move, but Lamoriello, who typically is in “win now” mode on Deadline Day, felt the exchange would have done more bad than good. He explained, “We went into this trade deadline with several areas that if potentially we could address, we would, but we weren’t going to get into a situation where we sacrificed what our plan is, because we feel very good about this hockey team.” “In our opinion, whatever we potentially could have done would not have been the best thing.” Coach Barry Trotz echoed Lamoriello’s sentiments as well.
March is Make-or-Break for the Metro Leaders
The Islanders clench onto first place in the Metropolitan Division with a 36-19-7 record, tied with the Washington Capitals at 79 points each, though holding two games in hand against their D.C. foes. Realistically, however, it should get easier from here. The team plays 12 home games between Tuesday against Calgary and April 1, all at Nassau Coliseum, a building where they’ve drawn at least 90 percent capacity all season, sold out six times and played to a 6-2-2 record. Players—especially long-tenured ones like Brock Nelson and Anders Lee—have emphatically expressed their preference to play on Long Island versus in Brooklyn.
Now, not only will they have the luxury of driving themselves to the rink for practice and games, but they have the rest of their five-game homestand to which they can look forward. The stretch will conclude with a quick trip to Ottawa for the second leg of a home-and-home, only for the Islanders to return and play three more home games. This means the club will spend an entire month on Long Island, surrounded by their families and practice facilities, and playing nightly to scores of intense fans inside their revered, often-feared home building.
The Islanders—many of whom have been together for the entirety of their NHL careers—are a tight-knit group with a familial locker room culture. The comfort provided to these players in knowing that they will ring in the Spring by spending almost every morning with their families can not be understated. Beyond that, the team will only travel into a Western time zone once, to Winnipeg on March 28, with days off on the 27th and 29th.
Of the 20 games left on the docket, the Islanders play nine of them against non-playoff teams, including three meetings with the Philadelphia Flyers, who they beat earlier this season and who just unloaded a top forward in Wayne Simmonds. They play a depleted Ottawa team twice and also have four games against teams on the wild card bubble. Their toughest tests will be welcoming the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs (twice) to Nassau Coliseum, taking on the Winnipeg Jets in Manitoba and closing out the season against the Washington Capitals.
Points count the same whether a team earns them in October or in March, and the Islanders have set themselves up for success with the 36 wins they’ve achieved thus far. While there is minimal room for error in the Metropolitan Division race, the Islanders, with their two games in hand on Washington and their six more points earned than Columbus, have some separation between themselves and those chasing them. They’ve earned 79 points while playing a road-heavy schedule and splitting time between two home arenas. Now they’ll get to reap the benefits of playing with confidence in the building they truly call home.
Thursday evening at NYCB Live! marks the return of the former face of the Islanders franchise, John Tavares. Tavares is having another stellar year, with 66 points recorded in 62 games played, including 35 goals. The game is easily this season’s most anticipated match at the arena formerly known solely as Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. It will be one of the Islanders’ toughest tests of the season so far, though they did blank Toronto 4-0 in Ontario during the teams’ only meeting this year. Mathew Barzal recorded a natural hat trick in the Dec. 29 contest.