It’s been well documented that the New York Islanders had a rough go of things in January. They went 4-8-3, scoring under two goals per game, and if not for the back-to-back wins to close out the month, the Islanders could have found themselves six to seven points out of a wild-card spot.
However, the New York slanders find themselves two points out for now.
The accountability falls on the Islanders themselves for their situation, blowing a handful of leads in third periods, leaving necessary points on the table. But what makes things worse for New York is that they failed to take advantage of two Metropolitan Division foes ahead of them in the standings.
On Dec. 14, the Islanders were tied for fourth in the Metropolitan Division with the New York Rangers at 35 points. They trailed the Penguins by three points for third in the division. The Capitals were trailing the Islanders by a point.
Flash-forward to Jan. 1, the Islanders were tied with the Penguins for the top wild-card spot at 44 points, with the Penguins having one fewer game played. The Capitals had a three-point lead on both.
On Jan. 30, the Islanders are two points behind the Penguins, who have three games in hand, for the final wild-card spot. The Buffalo Sabres are sandwiched between the two and also have three games in hand on New York.
What’s Happened to the Penguins?
The New York Islanders have faced the Penguins once this season, a 5-1 win on Dec. 27. These two sides go at it three more times this season, on Feb. 17 at UBS Arena, before facing them on Feb. 20 and March 9.
Given the games in hand, they make these three upcoming matchups critical. But the Penguins, despite sitting in a playoff spot, have been mediocre in January, playing to a 5-5-3 record.
They have struggled to play defense, allowing 44 goals in 13 games, 3.38 per. In their last game of the month, they allowed six goals to the San Jose Sharks.
To the Penguins’ credit, they have found a way to collect points despite not playing their best, which is what the Islanders have struggled to do. And their offense hasn’t been an issue, unlike the Islanders, as they have scored 3.08 goals per game.
But Penguins defenseman Kris Letang said it best to Pittsburgh Hockey Now following their latest loss.
“You cannot win just by scoring goals,” he said. “You have to be able to defend and play a strong system.”
Hall of Fame writer Dave Molinari questioned if head coach Mike Sullivan’s words were falling on deaf ears.
The Capitals Struggling with Consistency?
The New York Islanders faced the Washington Capitals once this season on Jan. 16, and there’s no debate that it was their worst loss of the month and could serve as their worst loss of the season.
After the Islanders got out to a commanding 3-0 lead, the Capitals scored four unanswered goals en route to a 4-3 regulation win.
It was a demoralizing loss for the Islanders and a loss that was inexcusable.
The Capitals were not having a great month before that game, losers of four of six, and the month, in general, hasn’t been too kind.
They have played to a 5-7-1 record, with one game to go against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday.
“Their biggest issue has been consistency and breakdowns through sixty minutes,” Sammi Silber of Washington Hockey Now shared. “They’ll be making a big push but then have defensive breakdowns and turnovers that result in odd-man rushes and high-danger chances for the other team.
“On a few occasions, one bad minute or period has cost them big time.”
Alex Ovechkin and co have scored 2.69 goals per game, allowing 3.08.
Netminder Darcy Kuemper has been average in his first season in Washington but has posted a .904 SV% with a 2.95 GAA in 11 games this month.
He was pulled on Sunday after allowing four goals on 20 shots in a 5-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Islanders play the Capitals three more times this season, in Washington, on March 11, 29, and Apr. 10.
As mentioned on Hockey Night in New York, the New York Islanders are in NHL purgatory. While this team needs outside help to compete for a Stanley Cup, they should be higher in the standings than where they are. Given how tight the playoff race is in the Metropolitan Division, every point does matter, and every game the Islanders play in the second half is a “must-win.”
The biggest reason that is the case is that they failed to take advantage of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals’ struggles.