With only one point separating the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers, it comes as no surprise that every game is huge. They have played closer to “the Islander Way” since coming back from the All-Star break, but the next six games against over-.500 teams will be a make-or-break scenario.
The Islanders have a chance to squelch the doubters and put their stamp on the playoff race with impressive wins. Over the next eleven days, they play the Washington Capitals, Flyers, Nashville Predators, Vegas Golden Knights, Arizona Coyotes, and Colorado Avalanche. Most of those teams have more talent than the Islanders, and they will be able to see how they match up against contenders. If New York can figure out ways to get two points in most of those games, they’ll be situated in a much better position. Moneypuck has the Islanders at an 81 percent chance to return to the big dance. That could balloon upwards of 90 percent with convincing wins against playoff contenders.
Trade Deadline Clarity
There has been much discussion over what general manager Lou Lamoriello and the Islanders are going to do at the trade deadline. Their offense fell into a rut before the break but has found their way out. Kieffer Bellows has looked phenomenal in his two games since being called up from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Matchups against the Dallas Stars and Los Angeles Kings were very promising, yet they were just two games in the big leagues. He’s shown flashes of offensive talent that the team lacks greatly.
However, Islander fans should not call Bellows the savior just yet. He was not the same player against the Tampa Bay Lightning, which is understandable for a rookie. These next couple of weeks will prove whether he is up to the task of consistent NHL play, and management will decide if he should stay in the lineup. I’m confident that Bellows will step up to the plate. Time will tell.
The Islanders’ roster needs to be set, excluding call-ups, on Feb. 24. That runs up nicely with their stretch of difficult games, so don’t be surprised if you see any trade rumors. That being said, playing against contenders will be a perfect marker for their playoff chances. If Lamoriello feels the Islanders are not where they should be, he will make a trade.
The third line has been a question mark all season. They found a groove over the last three games with Michael Dal Colle, Derick Brassard, and Bellows. Before, head coach Barry Trotz was rotating different line combinations. Against the Stars and Kings, the third line created four goals, more than in their previous 14 games combined (from ‘Kieffer Bellows scores his first two NHL goals in Islanders’ win,’ Newsday, 02/06/2020). Will the Islanders’ third line be a consistent offensive presence? Will they revert back to their old ways? We’ll wait and see over these next 11 days.
System vs Skill
It doesn’t come as a shock that the Islanders are one of the least-talented teams in the NHL. They have some players that are building blocks for a Stanley Cup, yet for the most part, the majority of the team would fit in bottom-six roles. The reason why they are consistently one of the best teams in the league since 2018 is because of Barry Trotz’s system. His “team-first” mentality emphasizes while reduces the need for high-end skill. Against the Tampa Bay Lightning, they were able to dominate play for only short periods of time. Talented teams are able to sustain that success for long stretches; how will they respond? Going up against teams like the Capitals and Avalanche will be a perfect way to see where the Islanders stand at this point.
When facing (potential) playoff teams over a long stretch of games, it illustrates one’s ability to contend. There are many players on the roster that could either cement or lose their spots in the rotation, and the next few weeks will decide their fate. The Islanders, mired in a thick playoff race, will have an opportunity to take their future into their own hands. It’s just a matter of if they capitalize.