The NHL trade deadline is 15 days away. Between now and then, the Islanders have six games, four of which are on the road. The Isles currently sit just one point out of a playoff spot, and they play the team directly in front of them tonight. By the end of the night, the Islanders could conceivably be in playoff position. That is a shocking turn around from even a month ago.
However, the season doesn’t end on February 14th. The Islanders have 28 games to go before all is said and done. But, for now, we must focus on the here and now. What’s most important is that the Isles seem poised to strike, that is if they can prove their mettle in the next six games before the deadline. It all begins tonight against Toronto. The Leafs, especially their rookies torched the Isles for five goals last week in Brooklyn. The Islanders did wind up winning the game in OT, but allowing five goals is far from ideal. With a win, the Islanders will have more ROW than every other team they are battling for the second wild card spot. That is a key stat to remember as we start to enter crunch time.
On January 28th, I wrote that the Isles needed to go at least 5-2-1 out of the break (until the matchup with the Rangers) to keep themselves in the middle of the playoff race. A win tonight would make them exactly 5-2-1 heading into the tilt with their crosstown rivals. Now, they face their next test, six games against teams in the thick of the battle for the playoffs.
What’s nice for the Isles is that after tonight’s game they can sleep in their own beds all the way through at least Sunday. After facing the Leafs in Toronto, the Isles face the Rangers at home, and the Devils in a home-and-home. They don’t have to leave the area until a matchup against the Wings a week from today. That is very key for a team that will play a lot of road games over the next eight weeks.
The Devils sit almost directly behind the Islanders with 56 points in 55 games, to the Islanders 60 points in 54 games. Amazingly, the two local rivals have yet to face each other this season. You can bet that New Jersey will be hungry, knowing every point counts. The problem for the Devils is that despite allowing one less goal than the Islanders, they have scored 33 less times. In fact, only Colorado has scored less than the Devils. That kind of production will make it hard to compete against the Islanders’ high-powered offense, and the stellar goaltending of Thomas Greiss.
After the Devils, come the Red Wings. Recent history has shown the Isles have had a lot of success against Detroit. However, the two teams have split two one-goal games this season. The Red Wings are really struggling this year. They have lost four games in a row, and are in the basement in the Eastern Conference. They are six points behind the Isles, having played two more games. They have given up the most goals in the East, and fourth most in the NHL. Despite their struggles, the Wings have not missed the playoffs since the Clinton administration, and they are going to do everything they can to scratch and claw their way in.
Even if the Isles manage to skate by Detroit, the next two are going to be arguably the toughest. The Islanders travel to Montreal & Columbus to finish up the month. The Canadiens have given the Islanders fits over the past few years. The Habs have won seven of the last eight against the Isles. The Canadiens have won every season series but one since 2004, and during the regular season all-time the Isles have won just 24 times in 92 chances in Montreal. So to say they face a tough task against the first-place Canadiens is an understatement.
They finish up the month against the Blue Jackets, who have allowed the second least amount of goals in the East. The teams have split two one-sided affairs in the past two months. It will be interesting to see how the Islanders can match up against a very good Columbus team, as they end a very difficult stretch.
This is no time to take your foot off the gas. If the Islanders want to show they are for real, they should go 4-1-1 in this stretch. Can they do less and be ok? Probably. I would say even 3-1-2 would be a solid stretch. But, the Islanders shouldn’t look to settle. They should take at least eight points away from this stretch. Doug Weight seems to have them believing in themselves, and playing like they are capable of playing. Remember, the Islanders have plenty of defensive prospects to dangle for an impact player. Matt Duchene rings a bell. Only time will tell where the Isles stand in two weeks.