The New York Islanders have fallen from the top of the Metropolitan Division to a tie for second place with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the matter of a month.
Since my last column on March 12, the Isles have a record of 2-5-1. They have hit a wall. They just have not played with the energetic passion that has lifted them until this point in the season. Yes, they have faced tough competition since then. However, that is no excuse.
At the midpoint of March, the Isles lost to the Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens and Chicago Blackhawks consecutively. They scored only three goals total in those three games. That made it four consecutive games scoring one goal and a four-game losing streak dating back to the March 10 loss against the New York Rangers. Newcomer Tyler Kennedy scored the only goal in the Ottawa game.
In the playoffs, I can only hope the Montreal Canadiens are not the first round matchup for the Isles. They just cannot find a way to crack the Habs’ code.
The Isles faced the unfortunate test of playing three elite Western Conference teams consecutively at the end of March. Only earning one point playing three total games against the Minnesota Wild, Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks is just not going to cut it. The Isles have a record of 1-3-1 in one-goal games dating back to Friday, March 13. In one-goal games, the Isles went 25-4-4 in their first 33 such contests. To be a champion, a team has to show they could defeat teams from not only the Eastern Conference, but from the Western Conference as well.
A positive thing is, the Isles are keeping teams in-check. They are not getting blown out. These are certainly frustrating losses.
On Sunday, March 29, the Isles finally regrouped and earned a 5-4 win over the Detroit Red Wings. The power play came up huge, as the Isles scored three out of their five goals with the man advantage. The Isles scored five goals for the first time in
March and scored three power-play goals for the first time all season. With the win, the Isles snapped a three-game winless streak and a seven-game home winless streak. During the game, forward Matt Martin set a new NHL single-season hits record with 377.
Newcomer and Isles backup goaltender Michal Neuvirth has not played well. His record is 1-3-1 since his arrival on Long Island. Yes, backup goaltenders do not get much time between the pipes. The Isles have not been scoring, which is not helpful either. Somehow, the team is still fourth in the league in goals per game. While playing for the worst team in the league, the Buffalo Sabres, this season, Neuvirth put up a .918 save percentage in 27 games.
Forward Kyle Okposo is still not in his past form at all. Since returning from an injury and 20-game absence, he has compiled three points in nine games. His brightest game since then was scoring a goal and tallying five shots on goal in the 3-0 shutout win against the New Jersey Devils on March 21. That just is not enough contribution from a first-liner. Okposo has shown that he can be a crucial element to the Isles’ success. Hopefully he is back to full-form and regains his talent by the time the playoffs begin.
With five games remaining in the regular season, I can only hope the Isles wake up and realize that the playoffs are upon them. I am hoping they could win all five, especially playing the Sabres. The Philadelphia Flyers and Columbus Blue Jackets are not playoff-bound either, so picking up points against these teams is crucial to regain confidence going into the postseason. I am confident they could finish strong during this final stretch. They have accomplished so much already this season. They are not just going to call it quits.
In order to win a Stanley Cup, a team has to be consistent all the way through the regular season and then put up more intensity throughout the playoffs. A team that wants to win the Stanley Cup will display that.
Islanders fans are getting frustrated and rightfully so. This is the same issue that the Isles have battled with for years now. They could convince fans that they are a more improved and changed team and play well for a time and just crash. A team cannot perform well throughout the early months of the regular season and crash during the later months and expect to clinch a high-ranking or even a playoff spot in general. Leadership in that dressing room needs to step it up and fast. The team needs to work on the little details, and that will be an advantage over opponents. It would be devastating to watch this team go this far and not succeed in the playoffs.
I hope the Isles can clinch a playoff berth well before the final game of the regular season. Having home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs is a huge factor. This season especially, playing where it counts the most in front of all the fans in the final season the Isles will call the Nassau Coliseum home would be ideal. With the season these guys are having, clinching the playoffs is just not enough. In their last playoff appearance in 2013, the Isles made it as an eight-seed and were eliminated in the first round against the Penguins. They have not won a playoff series since 1993. There is nothing I want to see more for the Isles than for a Stanley Cup to be paraded around Long Island before their move to Barclays Center in Brooklyn beginning next season.