Only 20 games remain on the schedule in this truncated, COVID-ridden season, and the Islanders are about to embark on their most important homestand all season long.
The next six games, the Isles will be tasked with two matchups with the division-leading Capitals, middling Flyers, and rival Rangers. Barry Trotz’s club have put themselves in a favorable position for a third consecutive postseason appearance, but this next stretch could be the difference between taking the East throne while having other possible playoff ramifications.
Each one which could loom large as the Islanders fight for position as one of the top three spots in the MassMutual East Division.
Even further to all those added elements is that this next stretch of games could be the defining moment of what has been a successful season till now.
The Islanders have been a dominant club on Nassau Coliseum ice this season, having gone 13-1-2. They’ve proven their a different animal by how they play as opposed to their up-and-down nature on the road. Everybody likes to be at home,” forward Brock Nelson said last month when the team was still undefeated in regulation on home ice. “A little different environment, one you’re more familiar with. Especially with the way the [COVID-19] rules and regulations are this year.”
In those 13 victories, the goal differential between them and the teams they hosted is a whopping 62-33. Some of those numbers might seem bloated as a result of them come against inferior opposition such as Buffalo and New Jersey, but they remain very impressive nonetheless. The competition is about to get a lot more stiffer.
Washington has had the Isles number this year, taking all three matchups in the season series thus far. The Flyers, albeit their horrendous defense and goaltending, have been a thorn in the side of the blue and orange. Then there’s the Rangers, who have gotten back Artemi Panarin and seen Mika Zibanejad come alive, are in the fight for that fourth and final slot in the division.
None of these games will be easy. And the Islanders shouldn’t want it that way. You want to be peaking right before the postseason will start a month from now. Playing well and stockpiling at least ten of the possible 12 points can definitely be a driving force to do as such.
Coming off two consecutive disappointing loses to the Pittsburgh Penguins, which helped close the gap between the two clubs — Pittsburgh and the Islanders are currently tied at 48 points, though the Isles are still placed second as a result of goal differential — the motivation will be up more for Trotz’s skaters need to get back on track. Offensively, they’ve been struggling in the aftermath of captain Anders Lee Every going down with a season-ending injury. On the backend, they’ve had a few rough outings of late, mirrored by poor starts and uncharacteristic mistakes. We’d be remiss no to acknowledge the trade rumors swirling. This group of games could have an impact on what g.m. Lou Lamoriello does with the April 12th trade deadline looming.
What better way to fix all of that than taking care of business in over this flock of games?
We know the kind of team the Isles are by now at this point of the season. Yet, there are still question marks surrounding just how good they really are. Their homestand, which begins tonight against the Caps, has high stakes riding on it.
By the time it’s over, it could most certainly be the defining moment of the season.
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