Hockey from the Blind Side, Good Teams Find Ways to Win

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The New York Islanders managed to steal 2 points in Winnipeg on Thursday night to make them 5 and 1 on their 7 game road trip. They have one more game today against their crosstown rivals, the New York Rangers, at Madison Square Garden this evening at 5. The Isles currently have 77 points, and are 5 points behind the Rangers for 2nd place in the Metro Division.

There has been a lot of chatter and, within that activity, more than a little concern and worry about the future of the Islanders for the season. There is almost this perception that there is utter disbelief that they have managed to earn 77 points and are realistically a playoff bound team again. Furthermore, if you tell some fans the Isles are 9-2-1 in their last 12 games, I have received reactions of disbelief from some people.

There is an old expression that says that good teams find ways to win. The games in Calgary and Winnipeg certainly reflect this old hockey adage as far as the Islanders having come out with 2 points in each of those games. Did they necessarily “deserve” to collect those 2 points? Perhaps, based on their overall play, no, yet that is why they play the games. Moreover, I ask the question how many of those types of games would this team have actually been able to win even last season?

Do I have my own concerns about the play of this team? Yes, to some degree I do. I think you can get away with not playing your best and managing to steal 2 points from teams that are not going to make the playoffs, but you can’t go to the well like that against the higher quality teams. In other words, that kind of effort today against a very hot Rangers team will not cut it.

However, you can look at it from the perspective of the Islanders saving their best quality of play for when it really counts. If they can start to play with their A-game on a more consistent basis, home ice advantage is not so far fetched, especially if you consider the schedules for the Islanders and the Rangers for the remaining part of the season, as Paul indicated in his previous post here. There is still a lot of hockey to play and with 3 games in hand, overcoming the Rangers in the standings may not be something viewed as so impossible by some.

I am personally not bothered by the lack of any big moves by Garth Snow at the trade deadline. Actually, I would have been shocked if Snow had done something unexpected. Granted that Ryan Strome, Anders Lee and, of late, Brock Nelson, are not having the kinds of years we’d like to see from them, I have no problems with the roster as it stands. Also, I think Shane Prince shows the kind of potential that might end up making him an important acquisition by the end of the season and into the playoffs.

John Tavares has begun to play better, and though there still doesn’t seem to be a real answer yet for the top line as far as which combination will work best, I still believe that will sort itself out. The goaltending combination also has continued to be one of the major reasons why the Islanders have amassed 77 points so far this season. Then, the defense has also stepped up by contributing offensively a lot more of late. All these factors are, to me, positives that are sometimes lost among everything else that some dwell on when it comes to the negatives.

What happens to Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen and Matt Martin in the off season will work itself out. Right now, those guys, along with Travis Hamonic, are Islanders, and they are a part of this core group of guys as March and April unfold and the Islanders go into the playoffs.

I simply want to see this team start to put out the kind of solid efforts with energy and fun that we saw last season. Maybe, this is too a sign of maturity and development in today’s NHL, but the New York Islanders, as far as I’m concerned, still have not played their best hockey yet. That is the one reality that some fans of both the Isles and other teams may not be appreciating. That is something to think about as the next four plus weeks pass.