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The New York Islanders are starting strong following the All-Star Break, earning back-to-back wins to begin the week.
Dating back to before the break, the Islanders are now riding a four-game winning streak. Despite the recent momentum though, the Islanders’ poor performance in January had a major impact on the outlook of their season, with New York winning just two of their first 13 games of the month. Their wins this week do help and we know after the Bo Horvat trade that it’s the team’s goal to make the playoffs, but it won’t be an easy task.
So what does the Islanders’ path to the postseason look like?
As of now, the Islanders sit 10th in the Eastern Conference in points percentage, holding a 27-22-5 record, with 59 points. It looks like it’s probably going to come down to four teams for the two Wildcard spots, being the Islanders, Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals and Buffalo Sabres. You can maybe include the Florida Panthers in that battle as well.
Looking ahead, the Islanders will probably need just over 95 points to reach the postseason, based on recent history.
Last year, we saw the Washington Capitals get the last Wildcard spot with 100 points (but there was a 16-point gap between them and the Islanders, who finished 9th in the conference).
Going all the way back to the last full 82-game year prior to last season, the Columbus Blue Jackets squeaked into the postseason with 98 points in 2018-19, edging out the Montreal Canadiens, who had 96 points. A year before that in 2017-18, both the Blue Jackets and New Jersey Devils got in with 97 points, beating out the Florida Panthers, who had 96 points.
If we set 97 points as a target, given New York sits at 59 points right now, that means the Islanders need 38 points over their next 28 games: essentially, they need to win 19 of them, if you don’t factor in points from overtime/shootout losses.
The Islanders have played the exact same numbers of home and road games so far, but if you look at their home/away splits, they’ve really benefited from home ice. They’ve taken 34 points over 27 games at home (16-9-2), but managed only 25 points across that many games on the road (11-13-3). The team has 14 more home games and 14 more road games remaining.
In terms of quality of competition, they’ll play 11 of their 28 remaining games against teams outside of the top-8 in their respective conference in points percentage. Of these games, they’ll play one more game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Vancouver Canucks, Ottawa Senators, Detroit Red Wings, Philadelphia Flyers, Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks, and two more games against the Montreal Canadiens and Buffalo Sabres. The Islanders desperately need to pick up wins in these games, with the matchups against Buffalo being massive ones in particular, given their placement in the standings.
For starters, the next three games are huge. They’ll face the Vancouver Canucks tonight, then the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday and the Ottawa Senators next Tuesday. It’s three games against non-playoff teams (with two of them coming at home) and if the Islanders can take all six points, it’s a great start.
Then after that, two of their next three games afterwards will come against the Pittsburgh Penguins, who are just ahead of them right now. The Islanders also still have three more games remaining against the Capitals before the end of the year. The importance of those games can't be overstated.
The Islanders have a good opportunity here, but need to keep picking up points and with only 28 games left, it’s starting to feel like each game is a must-win. They don’t have an easy path to the playoffs but if they can continue building some momentum in the coming games, it’s certainly possible they can find a way to sneak in.
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