The New York Islanders are dangerously close to repeating their fate from 2017. Here is a three-step guide on how not to miss the playoffs by one point—again.
The New York Islanders missed the playoffs in the 2017 season by one point. On top of that, the Nashville Predators, who had the same amount of points at 94, made it to the Stanley Cup Final.
When a team misses the playoffs by one point, it is inevitable to pick apart every loss and see just where things went wrong. In particular, in 2017, there were many third-period collapses or last-minute losses. Missing by a point can be taxing on a team. It’s also understandable if every player feels the blame in thinking “if I had just scored maybe one more goal.”
It seems that every time the Islanders have a chance to take a step forward, something is missing. In 2013 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, they lacked experience and, especially, defense. In 2015, the offense failed them against the Washington Capitals in Game 7. After defeating the Florida Panthers in 2016, they were severely outmatched in depth against the Tampa Bay Lightning. In 2017, a poor start doomed the Isles to the very end.
In the event that Islanders lose to the Devils on Sunday in Brooklyn, they will be exactly where they were at this point in the 2017 season—sitting with 44 points in 43 games. These are the things the Islanders need to do if they wish to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs in April.
Win the games they’re expected to win
For years, it seems as though the Isles have played down to their opponents. As a young, developing team a few years ago, they played well against the powerhouse Penguins, Blackhawks and Capitals. Sure, they didn’t win all of these games, but coming out and playing hard still counts as a valiant effort. In the winter of 2015 when the Islanders first made the move to Brooklyn, they had a strong record with only 10 regulation losses going into a game against the Arizona Coyotes in late December. Being shutout by then-rookie goaltender Louis Domingue is inexcusable from a team that won most of its games early on against much better opponents.
Beating teams like the Coyotes, the now-struggling Panthers and Sabres is important and it sets apart the contenders and the pretenders. True Stanley Cup contenders never take a night off while pretenders will lose those games and have dismal performances.
No team is going to win all 82 games. However, if a club is struggling with some of the best opponents in the league, they better win against the lower-ranked ones. Losing these games makes it an uphill battle and the Metropolitan Division has improved since last year (if you can believe that).
Furthermore, the Islanders are not healthy. This would make it twice as hard as it was last year, and they didn’t even make it to the postseason with a mostly healthy lineup.
Injuries and what to do if they happen
Injuries are clearly the most unpredictable point in any season and it is not a player’s fault if he gets injured. No one wants to be out and not contributing. That being said, it is up to the player and medical staff to get back correctly (proper rehab and conditioning stints) and in a timely fashion.
It is more clear than ever how big of a difference Calvin de Haan makes on defense. After he went down with a shoulder injury, it was up to anyone on the defense core to fill that top-3 defensive slot. Whether de Haan returns or not this season, no one has shown even minor signs of stepping up. After recently landing a contract extension on Thursday, Scott Mayfield should be the one doing everything to prove to management and the fans that he is worthy of that extension.
The goaltenders cannot do it all. We know, the tandem of Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss hasn’t worked out at all this season. Despite their performances, the weight of the load cannot be thrown onto the two of them. No defenseman has stepped up since the injuries to de Haan and, most recently, Johnny Boychuk. Up front, in the few games that the top two lines haven’t contributed to the scoring, no one has picked up the slack in the bottom-six forward group.
Depth wins championships and it was most relevant in the recent Stanley Cup Finals. All teams in the finals recently, especially the Penguins, Blackhawks and Predators, have had the ability to roll four lines. This is not something every team can do. If the Islanders can manage to get consistent production from the role players, the injuries wouldn’t be playing such a big factor in the losses right now.
In the Islanders loss against the Penguins on Friday, Josh Bailey, Andrew Ladd and Ryan Pulock left the game at some point and didn’t return. Hopefully, these are minor ailments that won’t affect their seasons.
Recollect and shake it off
Yes, seriously, let it go. The Islanders have had poor game after poor game and following the defeat against the Penguins, they have one matchup left until the league-mandated “bye week.” The five days away from the rink features no official team practices or games and it is a chance for the players to rest up and clear their heads. For the Isles, that is exactly what they need to do.
It appears the inferior showings from the team seem to be compounding and are only hurting the squad more. In the last five games, in which the Islanders been outscored 25-to-8, the top line has begun to slump. Add that with the defensive woes and all of a sudden there is a real area of concern.
Each and every player needs to clear their head and take a sigh of relief after the game against the Devils. The club has a week to do whatever they want. Thankfully, it looks like the bye has come at the perfect time for the struggling team and they need to take full advantage of it. Once the break starts, they have a week to prepare for a game against their rivals, the New York Rangers, in Madison Square Garden.
The Isles haven’t been great as of late. But they definitely have the potential to turn around this season. What’s in the past is gone and the Isles know just what they need to help prevent it from happening again.