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The Week Ahead: Let’s Stretch It Out

Columbus Blue Jackets' Artemi Panarin, right, of Russia, carries the puck across the blue line as New York Islanders' Brock Nelson defends during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)
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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.

The New York Islanders might have already passed the 41-game mark, but the second half of the 2017-18 season officially commences tomorrow when the team returns to Barclays Center. With that game, begins the stretch run that will hopefully have the Isles back in the postseason after they missed out a year ago by one point. New York has played better as of late including picking up five out of a possible six points on their three-game road trip.

No one knows what the outcome will be for another month or so regarding a playoff appearance, but the Isles have reached their must crucial juncture of their season. This week starts the process to show John Tavares why again he should be here for the long-term and hopefully for the foreseeable future.

For the Isles, their three games this week will be and in recent years be a heavy task.

Tomorrow: vs Florida Panthers

All-Stars John Tavares and Josh Bailey and the rest of the club return to the ice tomorrow evening after a much-needed four day sabbatical. Their opponent is the hard-pressed Florida Panthers. This will be the second of three meetings between the two teams, the first with the Islanders winning in a shootout 5-4 back on December 4th.

It’s been a rough go for Panthers first-year head coach, Bob Boughner. Missing star-goalie Roberto Luongo really has thrown a wrench in to their season. Plus, they haven’t been able to match the top-three dogs in the Atlantic Divison — the Bruins, Lightning, and Maple Leafs.

Tomorrow also marks the first game back in Brooklyn for ex-Isles coach Jack Capuano, who was fired in January of 2017. Anthony Beauvillier will look to make it four games with at least a point.

Matchup to watch: The goals against. Both teams currently sit in the bottom five in goals against per game.

X-Factors: Evgenii Dadonov, Jordan Eberle

Wednesday: at Toronto Maple Leafs

Following their game with Florida Tuesday, the Islanders will head north of the border for their first go-around with the Maple Leafs in Toronto. Wednesday’s tilt will be the second half of a back-to-back for New York, their first of three of them in the next three weeks.

The Leafs are led by superstar Auston Matthews, but they have an impressive arsenal behind him with Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Patrick Marleau, and the just to be serious for a second, the former Isles fan-favorite himself, Matt Martin. Toronto is quietly residing in the third spot in the Atlantic, and it looks like they will be a lock to make the playoffs. Mike Babcock’s crew has also received a stellar season from Frederik Anderson.

On the Isles side, they will be looking to make it two straight wins on the road, and at least six games with a point away from Barclays Center.

Matchup to watch: Special Teams.

X-Factors: James van Riemsdyk, Brock Nelson

Saturday: vs Columbus Blue Jackets

After another two days off, the Islanders will host the Blue Jackets in a pivotal showdown Saturday night. Saturday marks the first division game the Isles will play since they were dominated 4-1 by the Devils back on January 18th.

John Tortorella’s troops are in a dog fight trying to secure a top-three slot in the Metro, while their All-Star goalie Sergei Bobrovsky has had a fantastic campaign thus far.

Columbus has had the Islanders number recently, winning nearly every game a year ago in their season series, and winning two of the four matchups so far by a combined 11-4 score. It shouldn’t take much for New York to get up for this one, as it could play big not only for a win against a division opponent, but playoff positioning in the Metropolitan division.

Matchup to watch: The Isles power play against the Jackets last-ranked penalty kill.

X-Factors: Oliver Bjorkstrand, Casey Cizikas

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