In New Jersey last night, the New York Islanders snapped their four game losing streak with a solid 3-0 win. Jaroslav Halak faced 26 shots and was tested a bit in the second period with the goal post coming up as his best friend at one point.
The Isles took a 1-0 lead about 8 minutes into the opening period when Ryan Strome, who also had an assist in the game, got back onto the scoring sheet with his 15th goal of the season. There was no scoring in the second period, though there was that close call by Travis Zajac, who rang the iron.
Then, in the third period, after an Islander power play expired, Travis Hamonic scored on a slap shot to put the visitors up by 2 goals. Then, Kyle Okposo finished things with his 15th goal of the season into an empty net. John Tavares assisted on the goal, and is back in a tie for the points lead in the NHL with Alex Ovechkin.
So, the season long four game losing streak was brought to an end. Make no mistakes, folks. That was a Huge 2 points. We are taking it for granted that the Islanders will make the playoffs, but the lead over the Metro Division has suddenly been lost, and the8 slot is only 8 points behind the Islanders.
ON top of that, teams like the Senators are turning it on, so things are tightening up quite a bit.The Islanders must finish strong now. Home ice advantage in the first round is extremely important, but putting distance between them and the rest of the pack scrambling for the last few playoff spots is just as paramount. It is amazing how the standings have shifted and altered throughout the season, and the Islanders now find themselves trailing the Rangers by 5 points. Frankly, as much as many Isles fans will hate to read this, I don’t think the boys will catch up to the Blue Shirts again, especially when the Rangers have 3 games in hand to boot.
It is still hard to say how the conference will settle out in the end. So, trying to guess who the Islanders might play in the first round is not something that completely concerns me. I want to see this team win games again and get themselves back among the top teams in the league. That, to me, is more critical than worrying about who they will face. That will work itself out in the end, and then, the task of a seven game series will be the next goal.
With 9 games left to play, an 8 point lead is not a tremendous one, and, equally so, gaining ground on the teams ahead of them is no easy task either. Hopefully, the team’s health will continue to improve as they get guys back into the lineup next week. This will only help things for them, especially up front.
Unfortunately, though, the schedule is not going to be so kind down the stretch. Minnesota comes into town on Tuesday, and they have games at home against the Kings and Ducks as well. Frankly, there will be no easy night for the Islanders as the regular season draws to its conclusion. Every point is going to be valuable, and they will need to start finding the back of the net with a lot more consistency now.
I guess the “good news” is the Isles did not play “badly” during the four game skid. The problem was more lack of “puck luck” at times, yet they were also held to 1 goal each game during those losses. For a team that was finding a lot of consistency scoring, this was frustrating from my point of view. They out played teams at times and got plenty of shots on goal. The problem was, pucks were just not going in when, in the past, they seemed to do so.
It is time to finish strong and go into the playoffs with momentum. My hope is that other teams will flame out when they reach the wire and tougher schedules for some will, hopefully, make the grind of the playoffs more difficult. However, there are, of course, no guarantees. The Islanders have to take care of their own business, and winning games down the stretch to regain their confidence and effectiveness is important right now. Let’s continue the resurgence
against the Wild and keep it going from there!