Having won just three of their last nine games, the Islanders certainly are not helping their already razor-thin playoff hopes with the second half of the season officially underway.
They trail the Boston Bruins for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference by 17 points with four games at hand — which means a hot streak almost immediately is a must to save a season that began with Stanley Cup hopes.
Should things continue their downward projections, however, president and GM Lou Lamoriello will quickly face the difficult decision of breaking up the roster ahead of the NHL’s March 21 trade deadline.
Such whispers are already being circulated around the league with speculation rifling its way up and down the Islanders’ lineup for potential trade candidates.
The only way to stave off such rumors is by stringing some wins together.
“Let’s work on the process of finishing strong. What that does is you feel good about yourself and your game and hopefully the team has success,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said on Monday ahead of his team’s Tuesday-night matchup with the Buffalo Sabres. “Some guys have gone through [trade talks] plenty of times… I don’t think anyone is affected until their name starts popping up.
“Players are aware of that because… some of them read Twitter, some of them read the articles, watch TV, the sports shows. They have friends and family phoning you saying ‘you might get traded…’ you start asking those questions and doubt comes to your mind. It’s part of the business.”
Trotz implored that he still believes in his underperforming roster that has followed up two consecutive Stanley Cup semifinal trips with a 17-19-6 record through 42 games.
“I believe in this roster in a sense that if everybody played up to our potential, our ceiling, then we could stack a bunch of games together and be a team that’s hard to play against,” Trotz said. “We haven’t been as good. This roster can compete. We have the pieces, we just need them all to pull on the rope.”
Veteran forward Brock Nelson won’t see his name crop up in trade talks regardless of just how far the Islanders’ ship sinks. The team’s leading scorer with 15 goals has played all nine of his professional seasons with the Islanders and is one of the fixtures of their leadership group.
But even he understands the pressure that comes with the team’s performance with the trade deadline slowly coming into view.
“It’s probably more known and unsaid. Everyone here wants to win for each other,” Nelson said. “Without having to say it, everyone wants to stick together and we don’t want any change so we have to put a strong push here and win some games.”
Three of their next four games come against teams that are either in seventh place or last in their respective divisions (Sabres, Montreal Canadiens, Seattle Kraken), which provides an opportunity for the Islanders to string some wins together.
It’s the only option for second-line winger Anthony Beauvillier, who exuded plenty of confidence in his team moving forward.
“We’re going to get back on track here, we’re going to win some games… focus on a full 60 minutes and things will take care of themselves,” Beauvillier said. “We have better in us and everyone knows that.”