The Islanders reached the halfway point of their season on Thursday and, at a respectable 22-14-5, are six points off their first-half pace from a season ago. A second half with the same 49 points should quite easily earn the Isles another playoff berth.
But that is not the goal, nor is there much satisfaction within the dressing room over a first half that could best be called inconsistent — times of superb goaltending, defense, offense and special teams, but not enough time when all four aspects of the Islanders game were in good harmony.
“It’s just hard to explain,” Thomas Hickey said after the Islanders practiced at IceWorks on Friday before heading down to Philadelphia for Saturday afternoon’s game with the Flyers. “Last year during the first half of the season, when we were really going good, I’d say about 90 percent of the guys would come into the room after a game and feel they were really playing well.
“This year, I don’t think we feel that way. We all have to find that spot in ourselves and really get the ball rolling.”
Thursday’s 4-1 loss to the red-hot Capitals featured some familiar Isles issues from the first half, most notably an inability to score on a few good opportunities. They’ve been held to one goal or fewer 10 times so far this season after being held to that total just 14 times over the 82 games last year.
Goaltending has been a particularly strong point for the Isles this season, but Jaroslav Halak allowed a couple soft ones in the opening period Thursday in his first action since Dec. 21.
“Certain guys need to bring more,” Jack Capuano said on Friday. “For certain guys, you can’t be a sometimes player.”
Capuano made one shuffle to his forward lines, putting Brock Nelson with Frans Nielsen (and likely Kyle Okposo, who skipped practice because of illness) and reuniting Nikolay Kulemin with Mikhail Grabovski and Ryan Strome.
Last season, the Islanders were a strong possession team through the season’s first half, outshooting their opponents handily and applying steady pressure. With almost the exact same group of skaters, the Isles are now a middling possession team and one that allows 0.7 shots more per game than it takes after leading the NHL last season with a plus 5.5 shot differential.
And yet, the Isles sit among the top four in the East on points.
“It’s a funny game,” Hickey said. “I think we all feel in here that we haven’t hit our stride and we know it because we saw what that was last year. We just haven’t seen it yet.”