As the New York Islanders take on their rival Rangers tonight at the Barclays Center, the Islanders have been presented with a golden opportunity this month to move up in the standings and not have to worry about just making the playoffs. The Islanders have 13 winnable games and it starts with the Rangers, who have a few injured palyers and are reeling the last couple games. They need to set up first and foremost, home ice supremacy. Will this be a sold out arena? It better be. The Islanders don’t want to hear Rangers fans that are louder than their own. Yes, Montreal and Boston have had good fan support and you can hear them though the TV, but if Islanders fans are home watching the game and their listening Ranger chant’s that are louder than their fellow diehards, the atmosphere makes the Barclays an away game.
After the Rangers game, the Islanders will face off against two tough opponents in St. Louis and Ottawa in a back-to-back matchup. If the Isles can get a win in either game, they’ve set themselves up very well for the rest of the month. The remaining ten games through the month of December include the following teams: the Flyers, Blue Jackets, Devils, Panthers, Avalanche, Coyotes, Ducks, Leafs (2), and the Sabres. Some of these teams have already been beaten by the Isles and I’m sure they would like to even the score against some of them.
Couple of factors can make this a big month for the Islanders. First, Jaroslav Halak needs to be ready to go with no more hiccups. This schedule should offer him enough games to get back his focus because this type of potential winning is contagious and getting him on a hot streak will only make the Isles tough to beat later on. Second, do not trade Travis Hamonic this month. There are writings suggesting that Islander general manager Garth Snow does not like what other teams have offered him for Hamonic’s services and will hold pat for the time being. That’s the best non-move he could make. With Thomas Hickey back in the fold, the defense looks ready and stabilized. Third, the Mikhail Grabovski line is starting to see some life with the addition of Ryan Strome. Last games win against Colorado showed all four forward lines showing a chemistry and everyone is getting involved. Finally, the powerplay needs to come alive this month and if they can get it going, the Isles will be able to take out the other teams without relying on all four lines needing to step up every game.
So what are the expectations for the Islanders this month? They’re now on pace for 98 points which is one of the last playoff spots. The good news to that is the New Jersey Devils and Florida Panthers are the next teams to challenge for a playoff spot, but they’re now on pace for 89 points. The Islanders have the breathing room now, but expectations of a 9 win December is not much to expect from this team and it would put the Isles on a pace around 104 points. At that point, the Islanders need to start thinking about the trade deadline and decide whether if a trade makes sense. Can they find a trade that will improve or, at the very least, keep up the Islanders strength in the standings and get them into a deeper run in the playoffs. December could not have come at a better time as the Isles look like they’re running on all cylinders and the schedule appears to be in their favor. It starts tonight against the Rangers and the Isles must show that despite it being the Barclays, it’s now their home and they will defend it.