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Following the Bo Horvat trade and a couple of wins after the All-Star Break, there was legitimate hype for the New York Islanders making a run at the postseason.
Three straight losses against non-playoff teams followed though, quickly sinking all momentum for New York. After blowing a lead against the Vancouver Canucks at home last week, the Islanders suffered an overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens last weekend (which saw another blown lead). Then on Tuesday, despite firing 48 shots on goal against a goalie making his NHL debut, the Islanders fell to the Ottawa Senators in a shootout at home.
It’s a pretty disastrous stretch for New York, who lost a lot of points they just couldn’t afford to lose. Taking two of a possible six points against the teams they did is a huge missed opportunity to get into a better position in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
In an article last week ahead of the game against Vancouver, I predicted the Islanders probably had to reach 97 points to safely get into the playoffs (19 wins over their last 28 games). As part of this, 11 of their remaining games would come against teams who were outside the playoff race at that point, and now, that number is down to eight games against non-playoff teams.
Their path to the playoffs has gotten even tougher, burning three of their more winnable remaining games with minimal success. If we’re looking at 97 points as a target, the Islanders still need 36 more points over their last 25 games (18 wins).
What the Islanders do have going for them is that there’s still no telling who’s the frontrunner for the second wildcard spot in the East. While the three teams taking divisional spots in both the Atlantic and Metropolitan are pretty defined (and even the Pittsbugh Penguins should feel a bit more comfortable in taking the first wildcard spot, given their games in hand), the last spot is wide open.
There are five teams all between a .52 and .56 points percentage fighting for this last spot. The Red Wings do have the highest points percentage of the bunch and both the Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators have the most runway to secure the spot, based on their games in hand. But between the Islanders, Washington Capitals and Florida Panthers, all are very even right now.
So is it still possible the Islanders recover and get to the postseason? Sure. But when they can’t even hold a lead against teams who have struggled this season, it’s tough to see a path where they’re going to be able to consistently take down better teams, which is something they’d have to do to reach the playoffs.
The biggest issue remains the quality of competition they’ll face going forward. For the team’s last seven games of February, they’ll exclusively face teams who are currently holding a playoff spot.
After their back-to-back set against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins beginning tonight, the Islanders will face the Penguins again on Monday, then return home to host the Winnipeg Jets and Los Angeles Kings. A short road trip to end the month follows, where the Islanders will face the Jets again, followed by the Minnesota Wild.
So it's certainly not an easy path for the Islanders. They’re going to have to pretty consistently be able to take down the league’s top teams, and really can’t afford to stumble at all.
But we’ll see if they’re able to build any momentum as they host the Penguins tonight, looking to snap their three-game skid.
OTHER ARTICLES FROM FEBRUARY
Analyzing the Bo Horvat trade
Islanders sign Bo Horvat to eight-year contract extension
Islanders hold off Flyers in Bo Horvat’s debut
Islanders shut out Kraken, sweep back-to-back set
Looking at the Islanders’ path to the playoffs
Islanders suffer third period collapse in loss to Canucks