With a final stretch of eight games left in the regular season, the Islanders are faced with a tough task: bouncing back from a mediocre 2-3-1 stretch, losing all four games to playoff teams they might face in the first round in the Washington Capitals and the Boston Bruins. Despite the struggles as of late, the Islanders had a crucial practice day on Monday, which is likely their last until their final game of the season on May 10th against the Bruins. From now on out, their schedule will not have back-to-back off days until that last week of the season, which was reserved for COVID-19 make up games, making today’s practice all that much more important.
“We had a pretty good practice, we just needed to work on us,” head coach Barry Trotz said. “We haven’t practiced a lot, but today we had a good practice.”
This “good practice” that Trotz described offers the Islanders an opportunity to have some sort of a factory reset. They have played plenty of hockey as of late, which has certainly hurt the team in its attempts to improve beyond game days. The Isles’ play has been somewhat lethargic and resulted in having difficulty keeping pace with division foes like the Capitals. In the 6-3 loss on Saturday night, they were dominated at five-on-five, losing the scoring chance battle 27-22 and shots battle 30-20, according to Natural Stat Trick. Even with special teams contributing all three goals, the team lacked the sharpness needed to come away with two points.
Kuzy ➡️ Sprong ➡️ SPRUNG pic.twitter.com/uGmTr9SACx
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) April 25, 2021
“In this league, there is not much room for not being mentally sharp, and in our game, we weren’t mentally sharp,” Trotz said after the loss. “We lost too many battles … There’s times where I can show you [the Capitals] had two guys in the corner, we had three, and they came away with the puck. That’s just not winning hockey.”
The hard day of practice will surely bring the focus back to winning hockey, as the Islanders are set to face off against the Capitals, New York Rangers and the Buffalo Sabres in the next five games. This stretch is crucial to righting the ship given how beatable teams like the Rangers, Sabres and even the New Jersey Devils – who the Islanders will play next week twice — look.
Mathew Barzal and Co. could turn around and fairly easily win six of the final eight games and be ready to roll into the postseason, but things will need to change. The urgency and hard work that defines the Islanders and led them to the Eastern Conference Finals last season must come back. Over the last week or so, the Islanders have not been all that difficult to play against, but the extra day off might be enough to kick them into gear.
First place in the MassMutual East division is still in reach — the Islanders trail the Penguins by four points with a game in hand going into tomorrow night — so the necessity to lock in and play their best as the season winds down is here.
“You want to push until the last game,” Scott Mayfield said. “When we hit the ice, no matter what time of year it is, we play to win. I think you want to push as hard as you can and just make sure we are playing our best going into the playoffs.”
Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattWatling99