December will be a telling month for the Islanders season

New York Islanders center Mathew Barzal (13) celebrates after scoring a goal with centers Josh Bailey (12) and Anders Lee (27) during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

After six straight weeks of winning (with a few overtime losses in the mix), the New York Islanders have put up the team’s best regular season in recent memory so far.

While that record setting point streak ended on Saturday, Nov. 23, the Isles play continues to be competitive, despite the team’s first three game losing streak on the west coast.

The Islanders showed quick resilience afterwards, bouncing back with a 2-0 shutout win against the fellow Metro division foe Columbus Blue Jackets on Nov. 30.

Now standing at an impressive 17-5-2 record with 36 points, it’s how the Islanders conclude 2019 that will likely dictate how poised they are for a deep playoff run come April.

This year, the Isles have faired above average during in-division play boasting a 6-2-1 record, not to mention consistently dominating the team’s perennial bane better known as the Pittsburgh Penguins both at home and in PA. They’ve come a long way since Rick DiPietro was TKO’d by Brent Johnson some years back.

But December will be a different type of task for the franchise.

The Islanders will be playing out of division for 12 of this month’s 14 games, starting with back-to-back road bouts against the Detroit Red Wings tonight and Montreal Canadiens tomorrow—it’s the first time the Isles face off against either team this year.

They go against six other teams for the first time this season throughout the month too; playing those games mostly on the road with the exception of two home games against Dallas and Nashville.

It’s pulling these sort of wins against less faced opponents that could give the Islanders much needed separation in an already tight Metropolitan division where the Isles currently sit in second place behind Washington; a team that’s played four more games than New York with a 19-4-5 record and 43 points.

Like many in the dead of winter, the Isles tend to slump around the team’s midseason mark…at least that’s what previous seasons have shown.

More so than accruing points and wins, a strong December will simply give the Islanders less opportunity to face a potential collapse or drought down the stretch.

Not to mention, starting the new year with a potential 30 wins for Barry Trotz’s squad is certainly a way to show the NHL that the New York Islanders mean business.

Even if the Isles only take 10 of 14 games this December, that will still give the team one of the league’s best records along with a much needed buffer zone that could give the Islanders an early lock on a playoff spot.

Clinching early also means the Isles will be able to rest and prepare properly for the near two month grind that is the Stanley Cup playoffs rather than exerting everything just to qualify within the final games of the regular season — a habit that the Islanders have had for many recent years.

This next stretch of games could define if the New York Islanders are truly the real deal for 2020.

Alex Mitchell