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Five for Five: Big Boy Hockey

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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.

If there was ever a week in a season that could possibly determine the possible fate of the New York Islanders, you could circle this one.

“It’s extremely important,” captain Anders Lee said last week to Newsday.

The Isles, who are hanging on to the final wild-card spot in the Metro with 68 points, will play four games in the next six days. And all of those contests will come against teams who are either going to make the postseason or battling for playoff position. So the crucial nature of this week is only going to be ratcheted up to another level.

“It will be a tough stretch, but this is a good test for us and one that we want to rise to the occasion for,” Lee added.

Rising to the occasion hasn’t been hard for the Isles this year. They’ve held their own against the top teams in the league and been more successful because of it. Their resilience is also a factor for that success. It was evident in the games against Vancouver and Dallas, where the Isles were trailing late only to find a way to tie the game and earn points.

That resilience will be put to the test once again after the Islanders didn’t do enough in their 3-1 defeat this past Saturday to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

With two weeks left until the trade deadline, every game is critical for the Islanders. The next four might be the biggest.

Here’s what is important to watch out for:

The top-six waking up.

Just when the bottom-six has begun to find some success, the Isles’ top forwards have gone cold. The last two games saw less than inspiring play from Barry Trotz’s top two lines. It’s not the best time of year for that type of drop in production to take place. The Islanders are in a dogfight right now and are going to need the Mathew Barzals, Jordan Eberles and Josh Baileys to bounce back, and quickly.

The continued success of the third and fourth lines.

Trotz might have finally found the right formula for his bottom two lines after they were a carousel for the most part of the year. It’s paying off too. The third line looks like it has a new life to it. Forward Michael Dal Colle has looked his best all season playing with newcomer Kieffer Bellows and veteran Derick Brassard, while the fourth line has contributed more recently getting big moments from Casey Cizikas and Matt Martin. Having that four-line balance is one of the Islanders’ biggest strengths, so the more those two units contribute, the harder the team is to compete against.

Stopping the multiple-goal deficits.

In three of the first four games out of the break for the Islanders, they have found themselves trailing 2-0 at one or more points in the game. That’s ok if you are able to fight back and get points out of it, but it’s also not the position they need to be putting themselves in. A lot of that can also be contributed to soft play and bad starts. Those two elements of the Isles’ game have popped back up recently. Eliminate those, and those two-goal deficits become a thing of the past.

Getting some payback.

The Islanders will be in Nashville Thursday night, marking the only other time they play the Predators this season. The first time the two teams squared off back in December the scoreboard showed a laugher — an 8-3 win for the Preds. But the game itself had a little more bad blood to it. With his team winning late in regulation, Peter Laviolette, the former head coach of the Preds who was fired a month ago, sent his top power play unit out with the game basically on ice. That decision angered Trotz, the Isles’ head coach, who didn’t mince words after the game or in the days that followed. So it will be interesting to see how Trotz will have his group respond to Lavy’s questionable call that night, even though he was replaced with John Hynes.

Kieffer Bellows update.

Bellows has had a good start to his career thus far, tallying three points in three games. He’s injected some much-needed offense to an Isles team that was desperately looking for some. He’s also made the third line a bigger contributor recently. Despite him being sat against Washington, it doesn’t take away the fact that the Islanders are Bellows to continue that confident play this next slate of games.

Follow me on Twitter at @RTaub_

 

 

 

 

 

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