It’s been an up-and-down season for the somewhat streaky New York Islanders. In their last five games they claimed three narrow victories over Buffalo, including surviving a mediocre showing in their last contest; they lost two games against Pittsburgh, although in one game they played well enough to secure at least one point. To date, with just over 30% of the schedule completed, they sit in fifth place in a highly-competitive division where the nature of the schedule makes the standings highly volatile.
What happens in the next 11 games, which will bring us just past the halfway point of the season, will go far to determine the team’s regular season fate this year.
The Isles will be home for eight of them; they will face four division foes (Buffalo and New Jersey four times, Pittsburgh and Boston twice with twenty-two possible points to be earned.
Although the Islanders have managed to defeat Boston twice, the Bruins appear to be the class of the division at this point. Winning at least two points should satisfy most critics. The same can be said for Pittsburgh, although many observers believe that the Isles may be the superior team despite the last two losses. It is against Buffalo and New Jersey where the Islanders need to register points.
The Sabres seem to have shaken off the rust from their break, but the Isles should still hold the upper hand. New Jersey is a less-known quantity given how the pandemic affected their scheduling, but if the Islanders are to entertain postseason aspirations, they have to prevail past them as well. In each case garnering six points per four games should be a reasonable goal, meaning that over this slate of games the Isles can be pleased with themselves if they earn 16 points.
Once the halfway point of the schedule is reached, we will see more games against Washington, Philadelphia, and the Rangers. By that time fans will have a good idea of where the Rangers, Buffalo, and New Jersey stand. They are the three teams where the Islanders cannot afford to give away points due to careless or substandard play: you need to win the games you should win.
Present prognostications assert this is a battle for four playoff spots among five teams.
For the Islanders to start upon the second half of the season with promising prospects, they must set themselves up now for the stretch run.
Follow Brooks on Twitter at @BrooksDSimpson