The Islanders took both games of another home-and-home series against an Eastern Conference team as they defeated the Ottawa Senators by a final score of 2-1 on Thursday, Dec. 4.
This was the team’s fifth and final home-and-home series of the season.
With that win, the Isles finished an 11-game stretch against all Eastern Conference opponents that began on Friday, Nov. 14 with a record of 9-2. Gaining as much ground in the conference as possible was enormous. Competition is so fierce in this league that you need every point you can get as a contending playoff team.
After the placement of defenseman Travis Hamonic to the injured reserve list, the Isles called up 2013 first-round draft pick Ryan Pulock as a replacement. At the time of his promotion to the big club, he led all American Hockey League (AHL) defensemen in goals with nine. His slap shot is a rocket. That has been his trademark asset since the Isles picked him 15th overall. Pulock could also be a threat to opponents on the power play.
Unfortunately, Pulock did not see an NHL shift. He was briefly returned to the Isles minor league affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Young defenseman Griffin Reinhart has not seen much time with the Isles. He’s been with the Sound Tigers a majority of the season, playing only six games in the NHL, but has and will continue to get more playing time while Johnny Boychuk, Hamonic and Lubomir Visnovsky are out with injuries.
Experience is the only way to be successful in a fast-paced environment like the National Hockey League. Having Hamonic out of the lineup will put the size, strength and hit-factor on the decline for the defensive core.
Health has been a factor that the Isles have struggled with. I can only hope that after the guys that are currently injured return, injuries will not continue to plague the team. They have been on a lucky and healthy stretch up until this point.
On Saturday, Dec. 6, the Isles suffered as rough a loss as I have seen all season. They lost 6-4 after taking a 3-0 lead into the second period against the St. Louis Blues. The loss snapped Isles goaltender Jaroslav Halak’s 11-game winning streak between the pipes, which surpassed a franchise record. Isles fans should not be worried – you can’t win them all. Especially after having three key defensemen out of your lineup. Team chemistry is altered for sure. Another issue was allowing three goals while killing penalties. The team is back to being dead-last in the NHL in the penalty kill percentage category.
Michael Grabner has returned to the lineup and has scored a goal in both games he has played. However, he is still finding his rhythm again. I would be too if I was out of the lineup for the same period of time because of an injury. Hopefully he can get back to his old self because he is a vital member of the Isles penalty kill and a threat to teams with his speed.
Ryan Strome and the rest of the “kid” line still continue to improve every day. Brock Nelson, Anders Lee and Strome have the ability to be lethal goal scorers. Strome scored against the Blues on a beauty of a slap shot. All three find ways to score.
The same thing happened on Tuesday, Dec. 9 against the Minnesota Wild. The Isles blew a three-goal lead in back-to-back games. This is the sort of thing that would happen on a consistent basis last season. Third-period leads could not be held, leading to several losses.
The loss shows that despite holding a big lead, the game of hockey is 60 minutes for a reason. That will be a wakeup call to the team for future games. In order to get to the playoffs and even contend for the Stanley Cup, you have to capitalize on all aspects and play 60 minutes each and every game.
At the end of the day, the Isles are
still fighting the Pittsburgh Penguins nail-for-nail for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division.
The team has a seven-game road trip beginning on New Year’s Eve. This will be the longest road trip of the season. That will certainly be a test to see if they can continue their breakthrough season to prove the rest of the doubters wrong. The Isles have certainly opened up numerous eyes so far at this point in the season with a record of 19-9.
I will be continuing to cheer for the boys and crossing my fingers that they keep up their incredible and beyond impressive play after the new year begins. Until then, let’s go Islanders. Let’s keep it moving right along.