Islanders: Feast of the Atlantic?

Greg Whyshynski of Puck Daddy is asking if the Southeast will produce a non-Washington playoff team this year. Pensburgh's Frank is among many Pens fans fretting that such a spot could come at the Penguins' expense.

Let's be the annoying stranger at the party and make everything about ourselves: How do the Islanders factor into this Eastern playoff race? ("But enough about me, now let's hear you talk about me.")

It seems so long ago, but last year, during a more run-of-the-mill non-playoff season (i.e. a playoff-level team at New Year's was later submarined by injuries), the Islanders made a difference within what was a very competitive Atlantic Division that produced four playoff teams.

Unlike last season, the Islanders to this point have not made it any harder for their Atlantic brethren to get there: Thirteen games into a 24-game schedule, they're 1-10-2, with a regulation win over the Rangers and one extra-time loss to each Pennsylvania team.

But in 2007-08, the Islanders put up more of a fight -- particularly against the "[Large SUV] Metro Ice Challenge" foe Devils and Rangers. No Atlantic team -- except arguably the Flyers -- squeezed into the playoffs based on beating up the "weak" team in the division:

Isles vs. the Atlantic, 2007-08

07-08atlantic_medium

Each figure represents what the Islanders took or conceded to that opponent

The NHL's "three-point" OT and shootout games make this a strange exercise -- particularly within the conference, where extra points conceded in three-point wins really matter. The final two columns above don't always add up to 16 points, which is the number of points theoretically available if all 8 games (last season's schedule, remember) ended in regulation.

So in 8 games against each opponent in 2007-08, the Isles allowed the Rangers to grab 8 points, the Penguins 10, the Flyers a whopping 14, and the Devils only 5.

Interestingly, the team that needed Islanders cooking the most was the team with the greatest takeaway from Islanders games: the Flyers finished in fourth (6th seed) with 95 points. The team with the worst takeaway, the Devils, finished with 99 points (4th seed) and home ice in the first round.

The schedule is more balanced in 2008-09: Two fewer meetings with each divisional opponent means four fewer "perfect world" points available from each. So even if Atlantic teams continue the season's trend of feasting on the Isles, they'll still need to find more food elsewhere, in both conferences. But running the table on the Islanders would certainly boost their cause.

Given that Scott Gordon is in full "Operation: Youth" mode, that doesn't sound too out of reach. But given the tight race so far, it may also be necessary if the other four Atlantic teams are going to keep themselves in the top eight. With three games against each of them except the Rangers (just two left with them), the opportunity to be spoiler is there.

It ain't much, but in a lost season like this -- hey, it's something to play for.

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