The New York Islanders have not won a game in one whole month — hardly the kind of start many expected from a team that was tabbed as a legitimate Eastern Conference contender this season.
Back-to-back losses — on in overtime and one in the shootout — to the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks over the weekend extended the Islanders’ winless streak to 11 games; digging their hole in the Metropolitan Division even deeper as playoff hockey seems more like a Christmas miracle than a tangible target at this point.
The Islanders have taken just 15 points from their first 20 games and while they have games at hand on everyone in the Metropolitan Division because of a 13-game road trip to start the season followed by postponements due to a COVID-19 outbreak, they are firmly in last-place and 18 points out of third-place.
Most fans will tell you that the sky is falling — because it certainly looks like it is. But the Islanders and head coach Barry Trotz are sifting through the rubble looking for even the smallest of positives, which they’re finding in a three-game point streak that featured losses that extended beyond regulation.
“We’re starting to build some positives. We’re starting to feel right again,” Islanders forward Josh Bailey said. “There’s still more, but baby steps. This isn’t going to happen overnight. We’re trending in the right direction. We have to keep working and keep our heads up.”
Still without a win in their new home at UBS Arena (0-6), their normally-lockdown defense has been susceptible, even with Andy Greene, Adam Pelech, and Zdeno Chara returning from COVID protocols. But it’s the offense that has been the main culprit of New York’s struggles. They’ve scored just 38 goals in 20 games this season, dead-last in the NHL, and have scored more than two goals in a game just once in their last 12 outings.
Take out their lack of finishing touch and the Islanders’ play has experienced a noticeable uptick in their past three losses in terms of defensive organization, forechecking tenacity, and sustaining of offensive zone time.
“We’re playing hockey now,” Trotz said. “We would love to get our first win in the new building for our fans, for us, for our confidence. But we’re collecting points as we can. We’d like two, we got one. It’s better than nothing.
“It feels like hockey again. [Saturday] in Detroit, we had some really good moments… Going through what we have in the last couple of weeks, it shows a lot about the group. They didn’t give up. They went right to the end, we wind up getting a point with the chance to get two.”
The next four games certainly lend the opportunity for the Islanders to get their first win in four weeks. They travel to Ottawa to face a Senators team that ranks dead-last in the Eastern Conference before returning home for three games against the Nashville Predators, New Jersey Devils, and the Red Wings.
“There’s going to be no quit,” Bailey said. “It’s our job to find a way to right this and we have a character group in there that isn’t going to quit. We’re going to keep working… still a lot of games left to be played. No panic.”