Throughout this season, Our Rob Taub will give his preview of the week ahead for the New York Islanders. There will be what to watch for, and one x-factor for both the Isles and the opposing team they face that night.
Merry Christmas Isles fans. The Christmas break couldn’t have come at a better time for the New York Islanders — who have had a mix of naughty and nice moments this year. Doug Weight’s crew can recharge the batteries after after a rough ten game stretch, followed by three points in the last two games, including an impressive 5-2 win this past Saturday against the Winnipeg Jets. Before New York returns to action Wednesday evening, maybe they will have received the gift of a re-confident Thomas Greiss, a more solid blueline, and secondary scoring from the third and fourth lines.
With 2018 arriving next Sunday at midnight, this week’s three contests facing the Isles all have a huge impact on how they head in to the new year and what to expect the rest of the winter months.
Wednesday: vs Buffalo Sabres
After a much-needed four-day sabbatical from the grind of an NHL schedule, the NHL resumes two days from now, as do the Islanders. They will entertain the disappointing Buffalo Sabres. This will be the second of three meetings between the two clubs, with the Isles defeating Buffalo in their home opener 6-3, back on October 7th. The changes Buffalo went through in the offseason — bringing in new head coach Phil Housley — have yet to pay dividends, as the club is in the basement of the Eastern Conference. Jack Eichel is still producing at a high-level, but the frustration has been mounting for some time now, when it comes to his team competing and winning games.
On the Islanders side, Josh Bailey will try to extend his point-streak to nine games, while the team will look for their 12th win on home ice and points in three-straight games. Buffalo is one of the worst road teams in the league. New York can’t overlook their situation, as they’ve been known to at times play down to their competition, which they’ve experienced already losing to Ottawa and Detroit.
Matchup to watch: The Isles offense against the struggling Buffalo blueline. Buffalo ranks 29th overall in goals against, New York is second in goals for per game.
X-Factors: Rasmus Ristolainen, Ryan Pulock
Friday: at Winnipeg Jets
To start of the New Year’s weekend festivities, the Islanders will travel to the True North for their second matchup with the Jets in six days. This past weekend, these two teams met, with New York prevailing 5-2, thanks in large part to Mathew Barzal recording his first career hat trick. That loss will be fresh in the minds of the Jets, who are still fighting tooth-and-nail for the top spot in the Central Division. Winnipeg has also been a force at home — spotting a 12-3-1 mark at MTS Centre.
New York will be playing their first road game since their defeat in Columbus on December 14th. The Isles have lost four straight on the road, so this game represents a chance for them to get back on the right track away from Brooklyn and head to Denver with a win under their belts.
Matchup to watch: The man advantage. The two teams sit just one position apart in terms of the power play at fourth and fifth in the league. Game could be decided if one of these two gets the extra two minutes.
X-Factors: Nikolaj Ehlers, Brock Nelson
Sunday: at Colorado Avalanche
In what has become a tradition, the Islanders will play before the ball drops on the new year — this time in the Rocky Mountains. New York and Colorado have already met once this season back in November, with the Isles winning a very sloppy affair 6-4 on a night where Mathew Barzal recorded five points and Matt Duchene was dealt two minutes in to the game. Now in the post-Duchene era, the Avalanche have surprisingly improved, and are led by one of the elites in the game, in Nathan MacKinnon.
There’s no way around it, New York always struggles in Denver. Maybe its the air, or maybe not. But being that this game comes right as 2018 is about to kick off, the Isles need to be on their A-game if they want the beer and champagne to have that sweeter taste on the flight back to New York.
Matchup to watch: Special teams. The Avs are a top-ten team on the penalty kill. They’ll have their hands full with the Isles fifth-ranked power play.
X-Factors: Mikko Rantanen, Mathew Barzal