Mathew Barzal and his Islanders have every right to feel upbeat heading into a three-game midwest road trip beginning Tuesday against the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, and Detroit Red Wings this week.
They’ve won their last three against three of the NHL’s very best in the Rangers, Carolina Hurricanes, and Colorado Avalanche — overcoming a 3-0 deficit against the defending champs on Saturday night at UBS Arena — suggesting that good times are ahead for the team and first-year head coach Lane Lambert.
While the leadership behind the bench is different, a familiar feeling has returned to the Islanders’ locker room.
“We have that feeling again of we can really beat anybody,” Barzal said on Monday. “The years we went to the playoffs, any situation we could win. The other night down three, coming back and winning, it felt like we found that again. It felt good.
“We feel like we could beat anybody and I like where this group’s head is at.”
Not only did the previous week provide affirmation that the Islanders can potentially be taken as a serious threat in the Eastern Conference, but it also stabilized the team after a rocky start to the season.
Prior to last Wednesday’s meeting with the Rangers, the Islanders had lost three straight games, dropping their record to 2-4 on the season and sending them toward the bottom of the Metropolitan Division.
Had that losing skid grown, the Islanders would have found themselves facing a six-to-eight-point hole from the top of the division standings.
“It was huge,” Barzal said of the results. “We were 2-4 and it could’ve been ugly playing three really good teams. It was a huge stretch for us.
“3-0, can’t get any better. We have to turn the page. We have three tough games coming up so it’s just as crucial as well.”
The Blackhawks are a point out of first place in the Central Division while the Blues have struggled with six points from their opening seven games. They currently sit seventh in that same Central Division.
New York’s suddenly high-powered offense will have an opportunity to keep clicking at a high rate against both Western Conference sides. The Blackhawks are allowing 3.33 goals per game (10th-worst in NHL) this season while the Blues are yielding 3.57 goals per game (7th-worst).
The Islanders’ 3.67 goals per game rank No. 4 in the NHL this season. They ranked 22nd last season at 2.79.
“I don’t know, it’s been just pretty good. We’ve been putting the puck in the back of the net,” Barzal said. “In the past, we’ve had lots of chances that were never buried. It’s just been a good start.”