The New York Islanders are finally set to play at home following 13 consecutive games on the road to begin the season.
The mid-November home opener that the Isles are awaiting is a prefect representation of how challenging the start to the year was for New York. While they waited for their new home to be completed, the Islanders suited up as the road team for 13 consecutive contests to begin this campaign.
It was set up to be a high risk, high reward situation for the team from Long Island, as a strong start on the road could presumably lead to an equally strong, if not stronger, continuation of the season once on home ice, but a slow start could put New York well behind the eight ball. As it stands, the Islanders have emerged from the harrowing start with a 5-6-2 record, leaving them behind every team in the Metropolitan Division and almost every team in the Eastern Conference.
Now, it’s no secret that the season is far too young to write off a team that most would argue has aspirations to make a deep playoff run, but this position in the standings is still a cause for concern. Personally, I picked the Isles to miss the playoffs, in large part due to this treacherous opening schedule. My biggest criticism was that the Islanders are built to be a tough, defensive team that thrives in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but attempting to reach the playoffs may not come so naturally.
Teams like the Tampa Bay Lightning, Colorado Avalanche, and Vegas Golden Knights possess so much pure talent that a slow start isn’t worrisome, but for a team like New York, it is not stacked with individual weaponry that makes it a regular season juggernaut. With that in mind, a sub-.500 record after nearly a sixth of the season has been completed feels like a hole from which this team cannot dig itself out.
That has been reaffirmed for me after this road trip for a couple of reasons. The first is the lack of offensive firepower exhibited by the Islanders. For several seasons now, this team has struggled to score goals, and heading into their home opener, the Isles have scored fewer goals (29) than any other Eastern Conference club. Yes, they have played fewer games than most competitors, but they have still averaged only 2.23 goals per game to this point. That’s a deficiency rivaled by only the Montreal Canadiens in the East.
The second reason is the strength of the Metro Division. Not only do the Islanders need to improve the way they are playing, but they also has to contend with seven teams playing as well as or better than they are playing. Expand that to the East as a whole, and New York is one of only four teams with fewer points than games played. It’s early, certainly, but that feels like a significant gap to close if the Isles hope to earn a playoff spot.
Coming home with almost half of the road schedule in the books should aid the Islanders in their quest to stage a comeback and pursue a playoff position. However, it will be an uphill battle thanks to a slow start that has New York fighting to remain competitive in the East.