The Islanders have played with increasing improvement over the last two games, but are continuing to struggle when it comes to closing out games.
I can go into this one of two ways, focus on the negative and talk about how the team has only earned one point over the last two games or, focus on the positive and discuss how this team has showed an uptick in defensive play and a sudden ability to clamp down on shots against.
Well, there’s a third option too – and that involves a little of both.
Continuing this theme, the Islanders managed to earn a valuable point as we enter the last quarter of the season and remain on the playoff bubble – but the negative is that they had two points in their pocket going into the last three minutes of the game. This team has been and continues to be a complete disaster in their own end in the third period. I don’t know what the stats are for allowing third period tying or go ahead goals but it seems like a lot.
Back to the positives, the Isles have been increasingly using the body on the incoming forecheck and their own. This has allowed the team more puck possession which has caused two more positives; scoring chances, puck possession and limited shots against. In a season where 50 shots against has felt like an average or nightly occurrence – the team has allowed 32 shots against the Wild and 31 against Toronto. The shifts were still entirely too long, and as we saw in overtime last night Tavares was absolutely gassed in the extra frame and throughout the game as well. As I said on Twitter last night, it would be great for the first line outside of Lee to actually show up right about now. The first line hasn’t been carrying much of a load as of late and it could be used right now.
But that Barzal kid and the second line in general – oh baby are they special. Barzal with his eight three point game of the season and is now AHEAD of Tavares in points at 65, as a rookie. If he doesn’t have the Calder locked up yet, it would be robbery. He actually leads all Islanders in points, Tavares is at 64 and Bailey is at 62. I’m not sure the last time the Isles had three 60 point players, but I know Barzal is a handful of points/assists away from the Isles rookie record. He’s simply amazing.
At this point, the Isles real struggles continue to be on the defensive side of the puck, as mentioned earlier. While they are on the cusp of a playoff spot -tied with Columbus but just outside due to games played, it would behoove Garth Snow to help this team out and add before or at the Trade Deadline on Monday. Will it happen? It’s been widely reported that he won’t trade for a rental, but there are plenty of players left with term. For now though, reports are that Josh Bailey is closing in on a contract extension which hopefully means Tavares isn’t far behind.
I remain hopeful that this offensively talented group gets the defensive help they need to push them into the playoffs. They may not contend for a cup, but playoff experience is valuable, and as other teams have proved anything is possible once you’re in.
Let’s just hope the team continues to build on the positives.