Islanders Look to Gain Ground in Playoff Race

The Islanders are 4-2-1 on their current road trip and holds a one point lead over the Toronto Maple Leafs for the second wild card spot. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

What an exciting trade deadline that was. Another year of Islanders management sleeping past their 3 p.m. trade deadline alarm.

What trade deadline?

After all the hot rumors about the team wanting to make a splash, many Islanders fans were left disappointed once again because the Islanders did nothing. No Matt Duchene and not even a draft pick. They’ll stick with what they’ve got and see if it’s enough to squeak in with the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

It’s an understandable decision to stay put at the deadline considering the high asking price for some of the coveted stars on the market and with the team’s winning record under their new coach. However, with the reshaped Eastern Conference, a move or two would’ve been ideal.

With Kevin Shattenkirk getting traded to the Washington Capitals, Ben Bishop getting traded to the Los Angeles Kings and Mark Streit going to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Eastern Conference is a whole new beast.

It won’t be easy with the Islanders competing against the improved Toronto Maple Leafs, who acquired Brian Boyle from Tampa Bay and the healthier Florida Panthers, who added Thomas Vanek from Detroit to their stacked lineup.

The Panthers are healthy and are a force to be reckoned with now that Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov are back in the lineup and Jaromir Jagr on the first line. The Maple Leafs have looked significantly stronger all season, with Auston Matthews, Nazem Kadri and James van Riemsdyk each being 45-plus point scorers already — and they’re not even on the same line.

Facing the threats

The Islanders are finishing up what is potentially the most important stretch of their entire season. After the first seven games of their nine-game road trip, the team is 4-2-1 and needs to win the next two games in order to gain ground in the playoff race.

With under 20 games left in the season, the entire Eastern Conference is in playoff contention.

The Detroit Red Wings, who look like they may miss the playoffs for the first time in 25 years, are 12 points out of a playoff spot. When you look at it, that’s only six games back. Sure, it’s not likely they can bounce back considering the amount of competition, but it shows that every game counts.

The Islanders may have won most of their road trip so far, but they sit just one point ahead of the Toronto Maple Leafs — a dangerous, young and fast-paced team that has blossomed in just under a year.

The Islanders need to not only gain ground, but show they can win on the road. If they’re going to make the playoffs, they will likely be a road team without home ice advantage.

As of noon on March 9, the Islanders are 11-15-5 on the road, and are 5-6-1 on the road since Doug Weight took over as head coach. Winning these next two games will show a technical winning team on the road under their new coach, but they need to keep showing they’re strong against the best teams in the league and capitalized on the weaker teams.

Should the Islanders bring back Halak?

And what about their goaltending? Thomas Greiss has been a stellar and reliable starter, but having Jean Francois-Berube as their backup with his lack of playing time is a shaky insurance policy for the organization. He is liked by everyone, but does not have the track record yet to prove he is NHL-ready.

Hopefully he can establish himself a bit more over the last quarter of the season, but maybe considering bringing Jaroslav Halak up from Bridgeport in a backup capacity in the near future wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

Since he got sent down to the AHL Bridgeport Sound Tigers at the end of 2016, he has gone 15-3-3 with two shutouts and a .931 save percentage. He may need a little more time, but he could potentially see a resurgence after a horrific 2016.

With only 17 games to go before heading to Vancouver, it will be interesting to see what moves (if they even make any) the Isles will make in order to make a strong playoff run. Islanders fans need the team to make it past the second round this year. It’s been a long time comin’.