The New York Islanders are coming off one of the most unlikely weeks not only this season, but in the franchises’ 46-year history. Contrary to all the events that transpired, the Isles do hold their own destiny right now as the second wild card in the Metropolitan Division. There’s always a few things during each week of the season that have an impact, and this week coming is no different.
Our Rob Taub tells us five things to watch out for through games 61 to 63:
1. Has the team finally turned the corner and is ready to go on a run?
Look, the Islanders did win their last two games, both by shutouts. But if they know that the tide is turning, they will somehow not allow Jaro Halak to see another 40-plus shots in either two, or all three games this week. The defense needs to prove to Doug Weight that they are continuing to improve in their own zone, and with and without the puck.
The offense — and most notably the bottom six picking up the slack as they have done recently — must continue to provide goal support for the goalies, whether it’s Halak, Thomas Greiss, or Christopher Gibson. Getting contributions from Ross Johnston, Tanner Fritz, Clutterbuck and Cizikas will show that the Isles are rolling four lines as they did at the beginning of the year, and parts of the end of last season.
Special teams also continuing to make a difference — especially the penalty kill — should also be key, showing they can be depended on heavily down the stretch.
2. Can Jaroslav Halak continue his strong play?
Halak has been dynamite the past few weeks, and he finally got rewarded Thursday with the shutout against the reeling Rangers, even with facing 50 shots. Now, with the possibility of Thomas Greiss now injured — and Christopher Gibson getting the call up — it will be on Halak to lead the way for the Isles. There’s little argument to be made that Halak will not get all three starts with three games in a six-day stretch.
But even getting all three games this week, it will be interesting to see if Halak shows any fatigue from all the work he has been put through for the last several weeks. The Islanders will need him to be on his A-game if they are going to continue to not only stay in a playoff spot, but start to accumulate points and move up in the Metro.
The momentum is on the Islanders and Halak’s side right now, and him playing lights out will play huge as the weeks of the season continue to wind down.
3. Is the old Nick Leddy back?
Since Johnny Boychuk has returned, it seems Nick Leddy has found a new lease on life. Even with 55 now back in the fold, Leddy sustaining his play of late looms large.
Leddy no question has returned to his early season form offensively, notching seven points in his last eight games. Also notable, is Leddy has begun again to jump up on the play and use his offensive instincts to take less pressure of the forwards. His defensive game seems to have taken an upswing in recent weeks as well.
There still some doubt that Leddy is back to his old ways because of his plus-minus. If Leddy can continue his solid performance this week, that argument will be put to rest. But until then, the question still remains.
4. Has the first line returned?
It’s hard to knock the Islanders first line because of how John Tavares, Josh Bailey, and Anders Lee have produced all season long. But each players has noticeably slowed down as the team struggled over the past month and a half.
John Tavares has started to pick it up offensively again with four points in his last five games, but both Anders Lee and Josh Bailey need to start to push the pace again, which led to their early season success. Defensively, the trio needs to perform way better than they have in the past 10 games.
This week will have major implications on where the Islanders stand as the end of the season starts to approach. Seeing the Bailey-Tavares-Lee combo get hot again could tell which direction the rest of the team is going.
5. Will the Islanders continue their dominance at Prudential Center?
This question is number five because it really has no effect on the more important things facing the Isles. Yet, with the team nearly being unbeatable in Newark, it does deserve the some attention.
Since the 2012-13 season, the Islanders are 7-0-2 in their last nine trips to New Jersey. That could change with how much-more improved the Devils are this year, but the numbers do speak for themselves.