It’s almost Thanksgiving, which means it’s November and that the New York Islanders should be in the midst of some sort of record-setting losing streak. Well thanks to the additions of Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy on October fourth, plus the recently stellar play of goaltender Jaroslav Halak and secondary scoring that has been there all season, the Islanders are playing like the best team in all of New York.
They sit at 12-6-0 on the season, and in those 12 wins, they’ve defeated teams such as the Sharks, the Bruins, the Ducks, the Kings, and most recently a home win by the score of 5-2 over the, at the time, first place Tampa Bay Lightning, who had beaten them three nights earlier by the same score. In the first game the Islanders were coming off of a back to back, and in the second game, the Lightning were coming off of a back to back. It’s no surprise the two teams split like they did, but this weekend, the Islanders will play a true back to back against the single team ahead of them in the Metropolitan division, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Islanders have been tested early this season, but by ending a five game west coast trip at 4-1 plus splitting two with the Lightning, they’ve proven they’re a contending team this season. This back to back is another opportunity to prove that statement true, and even just getting two of four points by Saturday night, there should be a wide smile on every Islanders players face. Getting four points?Well, that’s asking a lot, but they’d be in first place and make a powerful statement before they play the Flyers.
For this team, many probably expected a slow start with all of the new faces in the lineup and the uncertainty behind younger forwards like Ryan Strome (3 goals, 9 assists) and Brock Nelson (9 goals, 9 assists). That didn’t happen after a 4-0-0 start, but then the team was just 6-4-0 after ten games and were coming off of a shutout loss in Colorado. Now, they’ve picked it up again and have stayed consistent winning six of their last seven. This has been all while superstar John Tavares has not been all that superstar-ish with seven goals and 11 assists, which may come out to a point per game, but he’s used to that mark being higher.
The Penguins are always as consistent as anyone, but they’ve been on a tear as they come into the back to back series that head coach Mike Johnston said he will treat as a playoff series with a 9-1-0 mark over the last ten games. Most notably, a shutout 4-0 win against the Montreal Canadiens, who were beginning to look unbeatable.
This could be the best time for the Islanders to try and avenge a 3-1 loss earlier in the season to the Penguins, because they just lost one of Sidney Crosby’s favorite line mates, Pascal Dupuis, for six months because of a blood clot in his lung. Former Islander Blake Comeau will take over that spot, and although Crosby is Crosby, that chemistry could take a few games to develop if it even ever does. While the Islanders will have to make a tough-decision and scratch someone for the return of the speedster, Michael Grabner, who’s expected to play in his first game of 2014 since having Hernia surgery.
The series will be a mix of starter versus backup as Islanders backup goaltender Chad Johnson (4-2-0) will take on Penguins starting goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (11-3-0) before the roles reverse on Saturday night. There is no telling what will play out between two teams have developed a bit of a rivalry, but what will play out is a battle for first place as the NHL season heads into the holiday season.Follow paulmbanks