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Coming out of the holiday break, the New York Islanders are carrying a bit of momentum.
With only a single regulation loss in the month of December, and an 8-1-3 record over their last 12 games, the team continues to manage to find ways to earn points, often against some odds. As the Islanders enter their final games of 2023, they do so riding a three-game point streak, following a 2-0-1 record across three games last week.
Against the Edmonton Oilers, New York found themselves down only just over a minute in and then were outplayed through most of the first period. However, New York bounced back in the second period fully due to their special teams, with two power play goals, followed by yet another shorthanded tally from Simon Holmstrom. While they were still outplayed at times at even strength and were outshot 31-21 overall, most importantly, they managed to protect the lead and hold on for a 3-1 win.
Then in the second half of the back-to-back against the Washington Capitals, the Islanders started very slow, being outshot badly early on, before Washington opened the scoring. While Hudson Fasching got the Islanders on the board only about a minute into the second period, New York still didn’t put together a great middle frame either and ended up trailing once again midway through the second period. However, the Islanders managed to claw back with a good finish, outshooting Washington 16-8, tying the game off a goal from Anders Lee. Noah Dobson took a penalty in overtime and it ended up making the difference, with Ryan Strome wiring a shot past Semyon Varlamov – but regardless, the Islanders managed to pick up a point for a 1-0-1 record over their back-to-back.
Then just before the break, the Islanders extended the point streak to three games with a win over Carolina. Similar to the win over the Hurricanes at the end of November, it was a situation where the Islanders benefitted greatly from poor goaltending from the Hurricanes, with most of New York’s goals against Pyotr Kochetkov being pretty weak. But despite the Islanders being outshot 25-16 in the back 40 minutes, they managed to protect their lead throughout the game, holding on for the 5-4 win.
The point is that the trend has continued: while the Islanders seem to have flaws in a lot of their games and rarely put together a full outing, they still find ways to earn points.
After tinkering with line combinations through so much of the early stretch of the season, they’ve finally found something that’s worked, with the team scoring at a much healthier rate over the month of December. The second and third lines can run a little hot and cold sometimes, but Lee, Horvat and Barzal have been great as of late on the top line, giving New York reliable offense.
Despite all the injuries, the Islanders’ makeshift defense group is also holding up. Noah Dobson and Alexander Romanov have stepped up to carry the group, as the only two remaining defenders available of the team’s top-five defensemen. Meanwhile, Robert Bortuzzo hasn’t been tasked with too much of a role since being acquired but has basically provided exactly what’s expected of him, and Mike Reilly has been a nice addition for a bit of offense.
Ultimately, a lot of the Islanders’ success will remain tied to goaltending, with Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov winning the goaltending battle on route to a victory countless times this year. Especially with so many top defenders out, the tandem has been key for New York.
As of now, the Islanders hold the fifth-best points percentage in the Eastern Conference. Looking at the team's three remaining games to close out 2023, the Islanders will have a strictly Metropolitan Division-based schedule, with two matchups against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and yet another game against the Washington Capitals.
Approaching the halfway mark of the season, while the Islanders have had their share of frustrating losses, more than anything, the team continues to just find ways to earn points. The efforts aren’t always dominant or even pretty, but it’s become a rarity that they don’t earn at least a point on any given night. With the results finally starting to come for the Islanders on a more consistent basis in December, they have an opportunity to ride into 2024 with quite a bit of momentum.
They’ll return to action tonight with another good opportunity to build some separation for themselves within the standings, in their first meeting with the Pittsburgh Penguins this season.
OTHER ARTICLES FROM DECEMBER
- Islanders sneak past Hurricanes, but win doesn’t inspire much confidence
- Concerns with Islanders continue to mount despite better results
- Islanders earn big win over Blue Jackets, Bortuzzo acquired from Blues
- Isles carrying some momentum following OT wins over Kings and Leafss
- Islanders still need to build consistency following successful stretch