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Five for Five: New Year Brings New and Old Faces

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New for the 2019-20 season for Isles Blog, our Rob Taub each Monday will give you his thoughts on five important things to key on for that week’s games for the New York Islanders.

The ball will drop on a new decade at midnight tomorrow night with hopes of some New Year’s resolutions for the Islanders and their fans.

Yes, they came away with a much-needed win last night in Minnesota. And yes the offense came from some unlikely sources — Matt Martin and Tom Kuhnhackl.  But, there still needs to be more resolve after the lull the team has been in since their historic 17-game point streak.

“The last couple of weeks when things weren’t going our way we started to get away from what we do best,” Martin told reporters last night after the win. His goal, resulting from a brilliant feed from Leo Komarov as he was falling down, was the game-winner six minutes into the third. “[We’d] get away from our structure and haven’t been playing as well defensively because we’re trying to chase offense… Tonight we were trailing most of the game and still stuck with solid defensive hockey. We felt good about our game through two and felt like if we stuck with it, something would give and thankfully it did.”

Thus far, the Isles are 1-1-0 on their post-Christmas road trip and they’ll face their toughest test tomorrow afternoon against the Metro Division-leading Washington Capitals. What comes next is their first date this season with the New Jersey Devils and last summer’s number-one pick, Jack Hughes, followed by a Saturday night showdown with old captain John Tavares and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

So that’s the slate for the Islanders this week with prime points on the table to be had. There are five things to keep track of though this week and these are them:

Defensive structure returning.

Barry Trotz and the players said the team got back to their “identity” in the Minnesota game, but there are still some things that need to be cleaned up defensively if the Islanders are going to take off again. Mistakes and missed assignments have doomed the Isles over the last couple weeks, something that was very uncharacteristic last season and for the majority of this year. The Islanders are built on playing sound, defensive hockey. Facing high-octane opponents like Washington and Toronto this week, their structure will be the most important thing if they want to come away with points.

Thomas Greiss re-discovering his game.

Things haven’t been the smoothest for Greiss for a while now and they came to a head Friday night in Chicago. Three goals on 11 shots were his stat line before he was pulled for Semyon Varlamov midway through the first period; he’s also allowed three or more goals in five of his last six starts. Greiss has continued to be a great solider for the Islanders, not only this year but during his tenure. Right now, amid his own struggles and the team’s, he’s got to get back to what has made him successful.

The bottom-six keep making contributions.

The hot button among fans and reporters of the Islanders of late has been all about the bottom-six. Basically a makeshift group with a bunch of moving parts right now, they are a disadvantage for the team right now. And then they get what they got the last two games — a Casey Cizikas shorthanded goal (yes it was in garbage time) and tallies from Martin and Kuhnhackl in the same game — and you forget why they’re so important to the team winning. Getting anything from the bottom-six is always treated as a bonus for the Isles. And with the string of games facing them and the offense a bit stymied, receiving extra production from those types of guys goes a long way.

Home Cooking.

When the Islanders return to the Coliseum Thursday evening, they’ll be coming in on a rather sour note. That being they’ve lost their last three home games and allowed 18 goals; 19 if you count the extra in the shootout loss to Anaheim. So, if anything, the Isles must find their mojo. They haven’t been outplayed at home per se, but they need to get back to their old ways of being dominant on their own ice.

Oh, Toronto.

Islanders. Maple Leafs. It seems now whenever these two teams meet that the stakes rise just a little bit higher. It’ll be no different this coming Saturday. The Isles embarrassed Toronto in their only meeting held North of the Border last season with Mathew Barzal recording a hat trick that evening. The Isles also won the only meeting thus far between the two teams last month and are 3-1-0 since last season against the Leafs.

Follow me on Twitter at @RTaub_ and have a safe and Happy New Year!

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