Turning Point in the Islanders’ Season

After last Saturday’s humiliating 5-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the New York Islanders were asking themselves some very difficult questions. The biggest being if would they will make the playoffs. This was a turning point in the Islanders’ season. After the game, captain John Tavares had some very choice words for himself and the team.

Clearly we weren’t very good. Execution was poor. We seemed very flat. No excuses for that effort, it’s embarrassing. It’s a big game at an important time of year and to play the way we did is unacceptable.

It was moment for the Isles to look in the mirror and show what this team is all about. With three games in four nights to start this week, with games against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals and the New York Rangers, the Isles needed to play their best hockey of the season. Despite their solid record this year, the Islanders’ season has been marked with inconsistency and a failure to play 60 minutes on most nights. The time was now.

Standing Tall

Without question, the Islanders played their best hockey during a stretch of the season to begin this week, in a back-to-back scenario no less. Before Monday’s game versus the Lightning, head coach Jack Capuano called out Josh Bailey, Ryan Strome and Brock Nelson. The players had a closed-door meeting before the game and when they hit the ice, they responded. The Isles put together a big effort start to finish, which resulted in a 5-2 win over Tampa. After the game, Tavares talked about how the Islanders needed to duplicate their performance the next night in Washington.

The following night, not only were the Isles in a back-to-back scenario, but they were facing the best team in the league on the road in the Caps. Also, Cal Clutterbuck and Calvin de Haan were out due to day-to-day injuries they suffered the night before. Finally because of New York’s schedule this week of five games in seven days, they needed to give Thomas Greiss the night off. Enough obstacles, you think?

But the Islanders came up with another big performance; goalie Christopher Gibson made his first NHL start and the Isles rookie defensemen Ryan Pulock and Scott Mayfield were solid. However, New York found themselves down 3-1 with little over with 11 minutes to play. But the Islanders responded, tying the game in regulation and then going on to win it in overtime. At the top, I mentioned how Tavares called everyone out including himself. In these two critical games, J.T had back-to-back three-point nights, one of which was setting up Thomas Hickey with the game winner in OT that put the Isles in the playoffs.

Finishing the Season

The most important thing for the Islanders at this point is to finish the season with the intensity, focus and strong play they had against Tampa and Washington. If they can do that, the Isles will go into the NHL playoffs with an awful lot of momentum. The Islanders will get a tough first round opponent anyway you slice it, if it’s the Panthers, Penguins or the Rangers. If the Islanders play to the best of their abilities, they will be difficult to beat.

Thursday night, the Islanders go to Madison Square Garden to face the Rangers. The outcome of that game will dictate how the Isles coaching staff and front office handle the team’s approach toward the home-weekend games (Sabres & Flyers) in terms of resting players. Remember, the Islanders played 16 games in March (10 of them on the road) and close the season in April with five games in eight days. It’s a near certainty the Islanders will not have home ice in the first round of  the playoffs, so having all the key players getting the rest and maintenance they need will be No. 1 on the agenda.

I am starting to believe the Islanders’ horrible 5-0 defeat at home versus the Penguins will become a blessing in disguise. When all is said and done, it very well could be the turning point to the Islanders’ season.