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Five for Five: A Much Needed Break

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 All-Star Game and the week of rest that follows couldn’t have come at a better time for the Isles.

They’ve played six games in the last nine days and this past week experienced crushing defeats at the hands of the rival Rangers, Capitals, and ending with yesterday’s 2-1 hard-fought shootout loss in Raleigh. The losses piling up have made things extremely tight in the Metropolitan Division. The Isles currently sit third in the division with 61 points, right behind them are the red-hot Blue Jackets, Hurricanes and Flyers.

Off the ice, the angst has ramped up in recent weeks among the fan base. Tensions have risen due to the team underperforming since its 17-game point streak; 12-11-3 is the Isles’ record since the streak ended.

“We have to change our mindset a little bit because our mindset has to be all team and we’ve got some individual mindsets that are ahead of the team right now, head coach Barry Trotz told reporters before the game in Carolina. “We made those adjustments. We addressed them today seriously.”

The other side of the angst is in regards to a majority of the supporters screaming for g.m. Lou Lamoriello to add some punch to the offense. Fans have been clamoring for the team to add more juice to the forward corps, one that still doesn’t have a 20-goal scorer (Brock Nelson is one shy with 19), ranks 22nd in the league with 136 goals for, and one that doesn’t have a real finisher in their top-six.

Lamoriello will have a long time over this break to examine the landscape of his team and the market to add help offensively; the trade deadline isn’t until February 24th. But there’s still one more game for the Isles to not only get Lamoriello’s attention but also head into the break on a high note — tomorrow night against the Blueshirts at MSG. It’ll be the third time in nine days the two rivals have met, with the Rangers scoring the first two victories.

So one last tilt before the players can recharge to get ready for the stretch run/postseason, and it’s an important one. The Islanders need the two points by any means necessary.

Despite no Isles games after tonight until February 1st, there still things to keep track of. Five of them are below:

Emptying the Tank.

This is usually the message by every coach before a long extended break. The Isles — though they deserve all the blame — were on the wrong side of it Saturday afternoon when they let the Caps, in their final game before their break, score five unanswered in the third which resulted in a stunning 6-4 loss. When the Isles take the ice at The Garden tomorrow, they have to leave it all out there. They need to be a desperate team and play like it. Not getting to play a game for another ten days, executing this method can be what the team needs to start off on the right foot when they return.

The goalie rotation returning?

Because of the long wait, Trotz will have a decision to make as to whether he wants to go back to his 1A-1B system with his goaltenders. Thomas Greiss has now had three quality starts after his struggles in December. His partner, Semyon Varlamov, has allowed 15 goals in his last three games after he got a run as the starter in recent weeks, one that had many mentioning him as a potential All-Star. One of these guys is going to be depended on as the games dwindle down toward March and April. But going back to the rotation might add some balance back in between the pipes, while also not overexposing either Varlamov or Greiss.

Beating the Blueshirts.

The Islanders have lost three straight to their Manhattan neighbors dating back to last season. The last two though, a home-and-home last week, really stung and no doubt will be in the back of the minds of the players. Which makes the stakes even more important to be victorious over the Rangers. I mentioned it in the first key one of the reasons what they have to do to win, but they also need a victory to re-establish their dominance. Over the last half-decade, the Isles have had their way with the Rangers, especially at Madison Square Garden. They need to show that mindset once again.

Barzal the All-Star.

Mathew Barzal will be the lone Isles representative this weekend in St. Louis, his second consecutive appearance on one of the NHL’s premier stages. Barzal put on a show at last year’s event which drew praise from the likes of Kris Letang and Sidney Crosby. The expectation is he’ll do it again, especially with the games being 3 on 3 — his specialty. It would be great to see him win MVP and lead the Metro to the Finals.

Bellows watch.

Bellows has been on a warpath for a few weeks now. No one has been scoring goals at a clip at Bridgeport or in the AHL for that matter like he is. It’s something that has allowed fans to question why he hasn’t gotten a call-up. Despite his defensive troubles, the Islanders could always use the extra scoring help and he would be a bit of an upgrade over some of the options they have on their third and fourth lines at the moment. Bellows will continue to be a hot topic over the break, and if he keeps producing, Lamoriello might have no choice but to have on the big club to begin the second half.

Follow me on Twitter at @RTaub.

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