The New York Islanders are still looking up at every team in the Metropolitan Division. While the amount of games the Islanders have played has hindered their ability to be higher up, there is an opportunity Friday night to jump two teams and start a rather pivotal climb up the Metro Mountain.
But the leap has not happened just yet, as there is still work to be done Friday night to leapfrog both the New Jersey Devils and the Philadelphia Flyers. The Islanders need to do their job against an Arizona Coyotes team who sits dead last in the NHL.
And after tonight, if the Islanders do take care of business, the job does not stop there. Each game provides a critical opportunity to collect points, some nights harder than others based on the skillset of their opponents.
It’s a fact that the New York Islanders will not go undefeated the rest of the way in 2022. There will be losses in there, but if the Islanders want to put themselves in a playoff spot come the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline (buyers) on March 21, there can be little to no hiccups against teams below them in the league standings.
I get it, we are discussing a sports league, the NHL, where the worst team can beat the best team on any given night. There is no argument to be made on that matter.
But for the Islanders’ sake, making the playoffs will be a challenge in itself, and dropping games to NHL bottom feeders not only makes their road to the playoffs even tougher but could create an unsurpassable roadblock.
This season, the Islanders own a 10-3-3 record against teams currently not holding down a playoff spot as of January 21. Against teams in a playoff spot, the Islanders are 3-10-3.
Not great, but that makes beating the weaker teams even more critical. This exact ideology helped the Islanders get into the playoffs last season.
In 2020-21, a 56-game season, the Islanders dominated the Buffalo Sabres (6-1-1), the New York Rangers (6-2-0), the Philadelphia Flyers (5-1-2), and for most of the season, the Boston Bruins (5-2-1).
When the Islanders fell off towards the end of that season, their play against weaker teams in their division got them into the playoffs for a third consecutive season.
And we know how that story ended.
Before the 2021-22 schedule reaches the 2022 All-Star break, the Islanders host seven teams, including Friday night against Arizona. Four of those seven teams are not currently in a playoff spot, with three of them having yet to reach the 30-point plateau this season.
On top of that, the lone team that has broken the 30-point plateau is the Philadelphia Flyers. A team that has lost 10 straight games, who the Islanders beat twice this past week.
Islanders head coach Barry Trotz has often spoken about just collecting points. As we have seen with the Islanders the last few seasons and this season, point streaks have defined them in one way or another.
Those points become even more critical when you think about all the back-to-backs on the ledger.
After Friday’s contest, the Islanders face the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday, a team with a new hobby — blowing leads.
Although Toronto is a team that has 51 points in 37 games, they have blown a 3-1 lead in four of their pasts five contests. Something to keep in mind if they get a lead against the Islanders on Satuday night.
Looking ahead at the other back-to-backs, not including this upcoming one, four of the remaining 11 are against two teams in a playoff spot, with three against two teams on the outside looking in.
That leaves four back-to-backs that have both a playoff team and a non-playoff team involved.
If the Islanders are going to make the playoffs this season, their record against the weaker teams, in the final 50 games of the season, will be the deciding factor.