The good news is the New York Islanders are headed to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The bad news is the Isles are in the midst of their worst stretch of hockey this season. Entering the playoffs, you always want to be hitting your stride, so understandably Islanders’ fans are panicking.
Lean back and relax blue and orange faithful.
Losing to Buffalo on Monday night may have been a blessing in disguise for one simple reason: rest.
Coach Barry Trotz’ heavy forechecking system demands a lot of his players. It is grueling to play night in and night out in a normal season. This season brings with it a condensed schedule offering very little time off. In fact, since acquiring Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac, the Islanders have only had two instances where they had more than a day off between games.
The wear of this season is now showing in their play over the past few weeks. The Isles aren’t skating well, they aren’t as physical and it’s because they are running on fumes.
Losing to Buffalo on Monday night all but locked the Islanders into fourth place in the MassMutual East Division. This allowed Trotz to scratch Mathew Barzal and Matt Martin for Tuesday night’s game. Both play very taxing styles of hockey, albeit in very different ways. Thursday night against New Jersey, Jordan Eberle and Andy Greene, Michael Dal Colle and Leo Komarov sat. Over the final two games one should expect to see more of the same as Trotz tries to recharge his team for a playoff run.
Last season the Islanders were crumbling when the league went on pause. This season obviously will not grant the Isles the same type of break, but resting players now and the upcoming break between the regular season and playoffs may be the only chance the Isles have to go on another deep playoff run. They need to rest and they need time to practice. And soon they’ll get it.
The days between the end regular season and playoffs will give the coaching staff a chance to finally have real practices. Since their deadline splash the team has barely had any time to really practice with one another. The ability to practice for a few days could help the Isles get their offense clicking, maybe too get everyone back on the same page defensively. There’s been several instances over the last three games where the team has made uncharacteristic mistakes in their own zone and have been soft in their coverage.
Trotz fired back at the critics by saying, “For anyone to question their ability to give is hurtful because this group gives a lot. This group, I have a lot of trust in. They battle hard. There shouldn’t be any apology. They’ll be ready.”
There is no question this team is struggling right now. The ability to rest players while the rest of the division continues to grind it out for seeding could be a benefit. Islanders fans, it’s time to trust your coach and your team. Gear up, the playoffs are around the corner and as the skipper said, “They’ll be ready.”
Follow Ryan on Twitter at @ryandunni