The Islanders’ Hot Streak and Slim Playoff Chances


The Islanders are getting hot at the right time. (Courtesy of Twitter)

The New York Islanders started this season with the highest expectations since the Drive for Five began in 1984. The expectation to take the next step and win the Eastern Conference in their first season in the brand-new UBS Arena. The season turned into a disaster quickly. An 11-game losing streak between Nov. 7 and Dec. 7 dropped them like a stone, putting them seemingly too far back to make a legit playoff race out of the second half of the season. Despite this, Brock Nelson’s career year and Ilya Sorokin’s Vezina-caliber season have vaulted them within shouting distance of the Washington Capitals with 14 games to play. 

Yes, a playoff appearance is still highly unlikely, but the Isles sit 11 points, or 5.5 games, behind Washington with a game in hand and two potentially huge games against the Caps in the final week of the season. They have to sweep Washington. That is non-negotiable. They also have to beat Toronto, Buffalo and the Rangers the week of April 18 and hope that Washington loses on the road to Colorado that week. Then, they only have to make up 2.5 games out of 11. The two teams have a very similar schedule, and the Caps are reeling right now, making a close race much more possible than it seemed just weeks ago. 

Washington have claimed just three points out of six games played since March 20, while the Isles have grabbed 12 points out of their nine games since then. That pace, a .250 points percentage for the Caps and .667 for the Isles, would put the Islanders one point ahead of Washington at the end of 82 games. Now it is silly to predict that a team with the greatest goal scorer of all time will lose three-quarters of their games down the stretch, but their schedule is very difficult and littered with road games.  

One major reason for the recent hot streak is the play of the newly formed top line of Anders Lee, Nelson and Anthony Beauvillier. The line was forced together after Mat Barzal’s injury against the Kings at the end of February and was a raging success from the start. In March, Lee netted his first career hat trick, Nelson grabbed his second hat trick of the season, and Beauvillier notched 13 of his 32 points this season. Nelson scored 13 goals in March, tied with Kirill Kaprizov and Leon Draisaitl for the most in the month league-wide. He reached his career high in goals on his third against Dallas, sending number 27 into the empty net. Now, he’s at 32 and will get to 40 if the Islanders make this run competitive. 

When Barzal came back, he was paired with Zach Parise and Oliver Wahlstrom, which is a combination that has worked very well. JG Pageau, Kyle Palmieri and Josh Bailey have all broken themselves out of their respective slumps playing together. All four goals in Sunday’s win over New Jersey came from this line. The Isles will have to make this push without Scott Mayfield and Cal Clutterbuck, who are both out for the remainder of the regular season. 

If I had to pick right now, the Islanders do not make the playoffs. Their schedule is just a little too difficult to maintain this pace. That being said, I have done nothing but doubt this team for three years and they never fail to prove me wrong, so why not again?