Montoya, Ullstrom Concussions; Islanders Need Strong Finish to 2011

Holiday hugs.

Al Montoya and David Ullstrom both have concussions. [UPDATE: The Isles have recalled Micheal Haley and Anders Nilsson in their place.]

That makes this home-heavy finish to 2011 all the more challenging -- and no less critical to the direction of this season.

Eleven of the last 13 New York Islanders games have been one-goal games (including Montreal, where an empty-netter made it officially a two-goal result). Five of those went to overtime, three of them all the way to a shootout.

We've said it a lot, and coach Jack Capuano has said it too: This team's margin for error is thin. Even last night, when Capuano said there were "no passengers" -- i.e., all 20 men engaged -- the team grabbed two points by the narrowest of margins.

The Islanders stand today eight points out of eighth place in the East. They have between one and three games in hand on all five teams between them and that standing, but none of that will be evened out by the New Year: All of them, including the Islanders, have five games between now and New Year's Day 2012.

What the Islanders do have is no travel: Three games at home with two games at Madison Square Garden mixed in. The aforementioned thin margin means a dominant winning streak is unlikely. But if the Isles want to jump back into the bubble discussion -- if they want to make up for games they "gave away" in the first quarter -- they need to do the unlikely and steal games back as they head toward the turn of the calendar.

The schedule resumes with the toughest part first: back-to-backs heading into Christmas, at the Garden Thursday and home to the Maple Leafs Friday.

Injury concerns include the "out indefinitely" concussions diagnosed for Montoya and Ullstrom (both were cleared to fly home last night, but...). Thankfully, Evgeni Nabokov looked good last night in relief; hopefully he's feeling as well today. Brian Rolston has been placed on IR for his concussion, suffered in the 3-2 home loss to the Stars.

There is room to wiggle with the roster and Bridgeport's game schedule goes dark this week, but it likewise picks up after Christmas with four games before New Year's. And Bridgeport is also banged up, with Justin DiBenedetto and Jeremy Colliton recently missing time with injuries.

For the Islanders, the post-Christmas schedule brings another visit to the Garden the day after Christmas, followed by an Alberta Hosting Exhibit with the Flames visiting Thursday night and the Oilers visiting for a matinee on New Year's Eve.

Each a very winnable game ... for both teams involved.

The Islanders dug this hole with a first quarter we graded harshly, one that has them in the bottom five of the league by most opinion and power ranking measures. Have they done better since that moment? They're 5-3-2 since (including two shootout wins, which has a way of obscuring things) and on an overall 6-3-2 run.

But they need to more than keep it up. After this run of holiday home cooking, they start 2012 on the road, from Carolina to the West. Then they return home to face the Detroit Red Wings and Philadelphia Flyers in consecutive games.

If they want to rejoin the playoff bubble conversation by the half-way mark of the season, they must regain ground now. Go easy on the turkey and stuffing. Steer clear of Aunt Matilda's jello mold.

* * *

IIHF WJC Note: Simultaneous to this schedule, the U20 World Junior Championship will be going on. We'll be keeping tabs on that, too -- hello, Denmark -- especially as it pertains to Islanders 2011 draft picks Ryan Strome (Canada) and Johan Sundstrom (Sweden).

If your attendance around these parts lightens up as you travel or get entangled with devote yourself to family duties, we'll keep the light on so you can check in for updates on your way to pick up milk. But thanks for visiting, reading and contributing to Lighthouse Hockey in 2011. This wild journey isn't half as fun without you making it such.

We'll see you today, tomorrow, next week or on the other side. Have a great finish to 2011. (That wish is directed at you, the reader, but you know, if you tithe it to the Islanders we won't complain. They could use it.)

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