The Islanders’ record hasn’t made the significant leap or turnaround that many were hoping for once exterior factors began calming down.
They’ve only won five of their last 13 games since emerging from the All-Star break last month while their chances of making the playoffs stand at just 3%, per FiveThirtyEight.
But Saturday afternoon at UBS Arena provided a glimpse of the brand of Islanders hockey from the previous three seasons that made them a force to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference.
The Islanders upset the St. Louis Blues — who are second in the Central Division only to the powerhouse Colorado Avalanche — 2-1; playing a shutdown brand of hockey fueled by a stingy defense, shutdown goaltending of Ilya Sorokin, and timely offense.
New York scored two goals on 20 shots and had an additional two from Kyle Palmieri waved off — a flash of the opportune offense that would shock teams in the playoffs despite being outshot and out-chanced.
“To prove to ourselves we can play a full 60 [minutes], physical, defensive-oriented, and get the timely goals that we needed to, that was big for our confidence,” forward Casey Cizikas said.
The result snapped a two-game losing streak that saw the Islanders yield a combined nine goals to the Avalanche and Vancouver Canucks. They allowed an average of 3.4 goals per game over their previous 12 — once again another out-of-character trend that has been plaguing head coach Barry Trotz’s men all season.
But, again, Saturday came and the Islanders looked like the Islanders, who are finally getting to contend with a set, reliable schedule.
Since the All-Star break, the Islanders played 13 games in 25 days including this most recent stretch of eight in 14 days. Monday night’s meeting against Colorado at UBS Arena will be their ninth in 16.
Compare that to the first half of the 2021-22 campaign in which the Islanders were welcomed home from a season-opening 13-game road trip by a COVID outbreak that sapped its ranks, only to return to full-strength while the NHL dealt with a league-wide outbreak of its own.
From Dec. 20-Jan. 12, the Islanders played just three games.
After winning six of 11 games from Jan. 13-Feb. 2, the All-Star break stopped the Islanders’ season for another nine games.
“It’s momentum,” Trotz said. “You have to have some rhythm, some momentum. We got shut down so many times, we didn’t have lineups set. That stretch where we had COVID and it shut us down and they kept playing. It was difficult.
“We never could get any momentum. Now we’re playing all the time and we’re getting some momentum. Our game is falling into better order… The guys enjoy playing, but it’s really difficult to play a game, then you don’t play a game for two weeks. It’s hard emotionally, physically, all that to really wrap your game while everyone keeps building their game.
“We kept starting from scratch about eight times this year. I just think the rhythm, the game, we’re playing good teams and this schedule is not only condensed, but the quality of our opponents — their win percentage is pretty high.”
While Monday provides a second matchup with the NHL-best Avalanche in six days, the schedule momentarily eases up ever-so-slightly for meetings with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Winnipeg Jets, and Anaheim Ducks — all who are out of a playoff spot — to wrap up a six-game homestand.