There’s a lot of hockey fans across the sport that like to use the term, games-in-hand. It’s a perception that helps people who don’t necessarily understand the percentages, but gives the fans hope of coming back and catching up to a particular rival. Indeed, for New York Islanders fans this is certainly the case. If you don’t go by the percentages, the Islanders now sit five points back of the last playoff spot from the Philadelphia Flyers, but have three games-in-hand. In most cases, fans will say something like “Well if my team wins all three games, they’ll be ahead of them.” Or something like “If we take two out of three, we’re only one point behind.” So in the case of the Islanders and Flyers, who has the advantage? If you said the Islanders, you’re wrong.
Here’s a little back story on myself. I used to be a pro-amateur bowler for many years. I was once regarded as one of the top bowlers in the state of New York and as a 5th grader, my average was similar to many 8th grade and high school averages spanning 5-7 bowling alleys. That’s also without using any of the fancy bowling balls of today’s era. In the state of Pennsylvania, I was somewhere in the top 20 and was accepted to Wichita State (The Duke University of bowling at that time) and was told I could make the team as a walk-on. From 5th grade to pro-am, I met and learned from many local and nation professional bowlers and when it came to beginning my game, if I had the choice of either going first or second, every bowler told me to go first. Why? Because if my skills were good enough to win, I’d be bowling against myself, and the more strikes I got, the more mental and emotional pressure I would put on my opponents to the point where once the tenth frame came around, I had already defeated them or by my second strike in the tenth frame, they knew they needed at least two strikes to beat me. More often than not, they didn’t. So what does this have to do with the Islanders?
If the Islanders go by the regular standings, then they’re fate is truly in the hands of the flyers. Is today’s matchup against the Washington Capitals a must win? No, but they should at least get one point. The Flyers are also playing tonight and if they win, they’re still three games ahead of the Islanders and the mental and emotional torment won’t come from the players, but the fans who constantly look at the standings and begin their own panic attack. This is reason alone is why players and coaches alike will say the cliché “We’ll just take this one game at a time” because it is absolutely true. However, if you go by the percentages and you look at what the Isles are on pace for and you see that all it would take would be an Isles win (91 point pace) and a Flyers loss (90 point pace), you’ll see that the Isles are on pace to reach the 8th and last playoff spot quicker than Philadelphia. Thus reversing the effects of the games-in-hand. But keeping with the perception of the three games in hand, what are those games that the Islanders could gain ground against the Flyers?
First, the Islanders play the Flyers two more times this season. Those could be considered must-wins and that would certainly be considered games-in-hand. Second, after looking at the schedule the Isles must-win games would be the Colorado Avalanche on February 12th, the New Jersey Devils on the 18th, and the Detroit Red Wings on the 21st. After the 23rd there won’t be any more games-in-hand and depending on the outcomes, the trade deadline may be more hectic for the Flyers if they somehow stumble through the month of February. However, if the Isles continue to win as they have in recent weeks, it won’t make much of a difference if the Flyers do the same thing. Should the Islanders lose to any one of those games, it’s all for the Flyers to lose.
The fate of clinching an Islanders playoff berth is strictly in the hands of the Flyers. There’s still many games left, but they’re in the lead and they know how to finish strong to end a season. They showed that last year and they gave the Washington Capitals a run for their money in the first round of the playoffs. All the Islanders can do at this point, like they should be doing everyday, is take one game at a time and hopefully watch the flyers lose before they either play each other or the Isles begin to make those games up. The games-in-hand won’t matter unless the flyers begin to lose or pace downward. What will matter is if the Islanders lose one of those games and then the pressure gets heavier on them. The Flyers would only be playing against themselves at that point, and they won’t need to throw a few “strikes” if they want to beat out the Islanders. No matter what you think of the games-in-hand, it has no bearing as long as the Flyers keep pace with the Isles. It’s when the Flyers do in fact lose a few that those games-in-hand could be used as daggers to beat them out of a playoff spot. If they can take advantage of the Flyers misfortune, then it’s the Isles playing against themselves and in the driver’s seat. The Isles could then decide whether to beat out the Flyers before the tenth frame, or beat them with two strikes to mentally deflate them. You’re up to bowl Flyers. Gutter on 8!!!