The New York Islanders (29-24-7) are in the playoff race from hell. Five points separate the six teams in the wild-card hunt, with the Islanders’ 65 points currently leading the pack through 60 games.
The Islanders are one game in without Mat Barzal, their most dynamic forward, finding a way to overpower the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 4-2 victory on Monday night.
Matt Martin found himself in Barzal’s spot, alongside Bo Horvat and Anders Lee, and played quite well. His strong pass set Lee up for the eventual game-winner on Monday.
Martin isn’t a permanent stay on the top line, especially if Barzal is out for the season. But he did his job and raised his game, which should earn him another go in that spot Wednesday night against the Winnipeg Jets.
But if Martin can put forth the same kind of night Wednesday, he gives Lambert no choice but to leave him there and focus on balancing the other lines.
The top two lines came through with the goals on Monday night, but role players did their jobs. For example, Hudson Fasching snapped an eight-game point streak with a strong play to set up Bo Horvat for the tying goal in the third:
— Isles on MSGSN (@IslesMSGN) February 21, 2023
Since Horvat joined the Islanders, they own a record of 4-2-2, winners of two of their last three games.
In his first eight games, Horvat has four goals and two assists. With Barzal out, Horvat will have to take more of the workload.
Brock Nelson continued his dominance with points in 12 of his last 13 games, coming off a two-goal performance Monday.
Lee, after the game, said, “Say what you want about us, but we’re going to battle, and we’re going to fight until the end…”
Although not a spark you want when a top player goes down with an injury, the Islanders need to find ways to carry momentum into games.
Last Friday, the Islanders came back against the Penguins for the win of the season before doing the same thing Monday. However, between those two critical games, the Islanders put up a stinker against the Boston Bruins, losing 6-2 and Barzal.
Yes, the Bruins are the best team in the league, but the Islanders were anything but good. The concern was the flat start after that big-time win 22 hours before.
After another crucial win, the Islanders will have to find a way to beat a Jets team, which has been one of the more surprising teams of the season as they have flourished under the leadership of Rick Bowness.
The Islanders will be on the ice later this morning for a skate before puck drop at UBS Arena at 7 PM.
Wild-Card Race Updates
The New York Islanders are in the top wild-card spot for now, with 65 points through 60 games. They are tied for the most games played in the Eastern Conference, as the teams behind them and the Florida Panthers have valuable games in hand, as long as they make them count.
Behind the Islanders, by a point, sit those Florida Panthers (64). They have five wins in eight games since they returned from break.
With 63 points, lay the Pittsburgh Penguins with four fewer games played than New York. While the New York Islanders celebrated two monumental wins over Pittsburgh, Mike Sullivan’s club has dropped three straight games and just one win over their last five games, being outscored 21-11.
Yes, the game-in-hands part is critical in the wild-card race, but those games do need to be won, and right now, the Pens aren’t winning them.
The Islanders play the Penguins one more time on March 9.
One difference. Detroit has played in three fewer games (56) than Washington (59). Both have games in hand on the Islanders.
While the Red Wings are 6-2-0 since returning from the break with six wins over their last seven games, the Capitals have stumbled badly.
The Capitals lost to the Red Wings 3-1 on Tuesday night, as they have lost all four games without captain Alex Ovechkin, who is back in Russia, sadly, due to the passing of his father, Mikhail.
Over the last five games, the Capitals have been outscored 20-8. The Islanders face the Capitals three more times.
The Buffalo Sabres, who are currently four points back of the second wild-card spot (60 points), have played the fewest games in the Eastern Conference.
They have won two of their last three games, but have dropped three of their last five.
The Islanders have 22 games remaining and little room for error on their journey to the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs.