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 grind to the postseason for the New York Islanders is now in full force.
Saturday afternoon’s 4-3 OT loss to the Vancouver Canucks at Barclays Center marked the first of 33 games in 64 days for head coach Barry Trotz’s troops. That’s a lot of games in a short amount of time, but it’s also something this Isles team might need to make sure that come April, they have been playing playoff-style hockey for a good portion of the season.
“It’s not going to be easy,” captain Anders Lee told Neil Best of Newsday this past weekend. “It’s that grind that makes this so much more exciting and so much more rewarding when you put yourself in a good position to end the season. I think that’s what makes this all so great.”
As of Monday morning, the urgency should definitely be up a notch as the Islanders have slipped to the wild card spot in the Metropolitan Division. They are one point ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes and Philadelphia Flyers. So, things are as tight as can be. And if this week is a repeat of some of the weeks the Isles had before the break, they could find themselves on the outside looking in.
“Every point matters,” forward Jordan Eberle reiterated.
Getting back to a more normal schedule after the ten-day hiatus, the Islanders have three big games this week with important points up for grabs. They’ll keep winding down their Brooklyn schedule — where they still haven’t lost in regulation this year — welcoming the Dallas Stars and Los Angeles Kings. Following those two games, the Isles make a quick stop down in Tampa to take on the resurgent Tampa Bay Lightning.
Here are five items to keep in mind during this crucial week:
Kieffer Bellows has arrived.
It was the top news heard around Isles Country this morning — Bellows had finally gotten the call to the NHL. Bellows has been scorching hot for Bridgeport since the beginning of December and deserved the call-up. The Isles’ offense has needed some type of spark for a while now, and Bellows can hopefully provide that.
“Hopefully he can come up and make a big impact with us. He makes it look easy at times,” Lee said this morning about Bellows.
— Bridgeport Sound Tigers (@TheSoundTigers) February 3, 2020
The 21-year-old’s move up to the varsity is also being a message sent by Trotz after he benched veteran forward, Tom Kuhnhackl, for the third period of Saturday’s game. Kuhnhackl, who was on the ice for all three Vancouver goals in regulation, struggled all game.
Bellows will now get his opportunity to prove why he deserved the promotion, even though he’s most likely be paired with Derick Brassard and Michael Dal Colle. If anything, his skill and scoring touch can help more than hurt that line at this juncture of the year.
Getting back in sync.
The ten-day layoff most definitely played a part, but Saturday’s loss seemed to see the Islanders struggle to have everyone on the same page. And that’s not a shot at the way they played — they actually played pretty well except for a couple of defensive breakdowns — but there wasn’t a lot of juice coming from the forwards. They struggled to get good shots off and really make it hard on the Canucks’ young D. It’s that missing energy though that the Islanders are going to need to find once again this week.
Semyon Varlamov finding his groove again.
Thomas Greiss was fighting the puck all day on Saturday, which is a sign that it’s time for Varlamov to get back in the cage. Varlamov, who’s been the wrong side of his last four starts, is seeking his first win since his 32-save shutout against Colorado last month. The veteran netminder also needs to regain the confident play which had him in the All-Star conversation. His last three games, he’s allowed 14 goals and had a .850 save percentage. Those are not the numbers that the Isles need at this time of the year.
Varlamov is expected to lead the charge in the net for the next two months. Bouncing back this week will help him do that.
Beating teams you should beat.
Skip past the Dallas game and not thinking ahead to Tampa, the Islanders cannot, in any way, give away points to the Kings on Thursday. L.A. sits last place in the Pacific Division and is just really bad. Oddly enough, the Islanders have already lost to them this year and done the same with more than a few lower-tier teams this season.
That’s why it makes things all the more crucial the Isles do to the Kings what they did to the Red Wings two weeks ago. They beat the Wings into submission early on the way to an 8-2 laugher.
Having that “pissed off, no-nonsense” mentality is exactly what the Islanders must show.
A chance for a sweep.
One of the crazier things that has happened this season for the Islanders is their domination of the Atlantic Division. The Isles are 13-2-1 against the entire division, including their two victories over the Bolts by a combined score of 10-3.
This weekend will be the last time the two teams meet unless they cross paths in the postseason. It also marks the first time since the 2012-13 season the Islanders have the chance to sweep the season series from the Lightning. Tampa is not the same group the Isles saw in November and December. They are once again resembling that dominant force they were a year ago.
Sweeping them would be a feather in the Islanders’ cap, so would be grabbing the two points in a place they normally struggle.
Follow me on Twitter at @RTaub_