The New York Islanders began a critical portion of the season on Thursday night, and they did so by collecting two points in their contest against the New Jersey Devils.
With a 3-2 victory over the Devils, the Islanders were able to gain some ground on the team that is most immediately ahead of them in the Metropolitan Division standings. It was the first game since New Year’s Day for New York, but the team was able to shake off the rust and get this stretch of games off to a strong start.
What makes this upcoming series of games so important is the fact that over the next three weeks, the Islanders will play 11 games, including Thursday night’s tilt with New Jersey, and ten of those 11 games will be home games. After that, the league will have its All-Star Weekend and what was scheduled to be the Olympic break.
This span needs to be a tale of redemption for the Islanders after faltering on the long road trip early in the season sent the team into a spiral that landed it in last place in the Metro. This homestand presents an opportunity for New York to use the momentum generated by being at home for so long to begin making progress toward being competitive in the race for a playoff spot.
It helps, then, that five of the 11 upcoming games will be against a division rival. Most notably, there will be three matchups in the next 12 days with the Philadelphia Flyers, a team that New York trails by only five points.
The Islanders’ upcoming slate of games could make or break the season.
It is worth noting that the Isles will have other lengthy spans of games that are primarily at home later in the season, but what makes this stretch so vital is the fact that if it goes wrong, those other homestands may not be overly meaningful in terms of qualifying for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Reaching that stage of the season is already a long shot, given the way that the top teams in the Eastern Conference have performed to this point, so the Islanders can ill afford to give up any more ground. If anything is going to spark a comeback in New York, it’s going to have to be this string of games, because after this, things get somewhat complicated.
Immediately on the other side of these 11 games, the Islanders will embark on a four-game road trip through California with a stop in Denver to play the Colorado Avalanche, and looking at the last two months of the season as a whole, New York plays a Metro opponent only 13 times in 34 contests. All of that is to say that these 11 games may be as crucial as any set of games that the Islanders will play for the remainder of the year.
As I said, it’s a long shot that the Islanders will return to the postseason in 2022. However, if they intend to have any shot at making a playoff run, the comeback is going to have to start now. Picking up two points against the Devils is a good start.