It’s been said that the Chinese word for “crisis” is written with two characters, one that means “danger” and another that means “opportunity.”
For the New York Islanders, the current standings crisis has still had one slim thread to hang our hopes on – games in hand. So long as the team actually won those games, they’d pull even with a few of the clubs they’ve been chasing all season, and be in a position to sneak into the playoffs with a strong finish.
Games in hand, however, are a double-edged thing. The opportunity comes at a cost, which is that the Islanders have to play a lot without rest in a short period of time… and so far this year, they haven’t proved to be very good at it.
The schedule up until now has had four tight stretches, where the Islanders have either played three games in four nights or four games in six nights.* Last night’s shutout of Dallas has started a fifth, as they go back-to-back with the Kings and Flyers over the weekend, and come back on Tuesday to host the Blue Jackets.
*Thanks to math, all the 4-in-6 spots must include a 3-in-4 somewhere.
This is how the Islanders have done up until now under these conditions:
- Oct 13, 15, 16, 18 - L @ NY; L @ Wsh; OTW vs Ana; L vs SJ
- Nov 22, 23, 25 - SOW @ Ana; L @ LA; L @ SJ
- Dec 13, 15, 16, 18 – L vs Wsh; L vs. Chc; OTL @ Buf; L vs Ott
- Jan 11, 13, 14, 16 – L vs Fla; W @ Fla; L @ Car; W @ Bos
- Jan 19, 21, 22, 24 – W vs. Dal; vs. LA, vs. Phl; vs. Clb
That works out to a 5-10-1 record during these tough stretches (but three in the last four, all in regulation). The Isles are 13-7-7 with more rest. Nobody is going to throw parties over the latter record, which is essentially .500 hockey, but 33 points in 27 games works out to 99 points over a full schedule, and even in the top-heavy Metro, you’d think that would have to put the Isles in playoff position.
New coach Doug Weight gave the Isles an option heading into the back-to-back portion of this stretch – a short practice today or morning skate tomorrow – and given the task ahead, this seems to be both a wise conservation of energy and a nice reward for their recent efforts. The team has seen better results since a five-game losing streak in mid-December put their season on life support, though not enough to preserve Jack Capuano’s head coaching job.
So here comes the resistible force that is our 2016-17 New York Islanders, and below are the various objects of dubious movability:
- Feb 3, 4, 6 - @ Det, vs. Car, vs. Tor
- Feb 9, 11, 12, 14 - @ Phl; @ Ott; vs Colo; @ Tor
- Feb 16, 18, 19, 21 - vs NYR; @ NJ; vs. NJ; @ Det
- Mar 2, 3, 5, 7 - @ Dal; @ Chc; @ Clg; @ Edm
- Mar 11, 13, 14, 16 - @ StL; vs. Car; @ Car; vs Wpg
- Mar 22, 24, 25, 27 - @ NYR; @ Pitt; vs. Bos; vs. Nsh
- Mar 30, 31, Apr 2, 4 - @ Phl; vs. NJ; @ Buf; @ Nsh
- Apr 6, 8, 9 - @ Car; @ NJ; vs. Ott
Of the Isles’ last 39 games this season, 33 will be played under these short-rest conditions. The beginning of February is particularly crucial, and brutal – 13 games in just 23 days, part of a finish that features a nine-game road trip and a stretch of 22 away games vs. just 12 home dates. The Isles will have to play to their current form (7-3-2 in their past 12) just to have a chance – especially against their fellow Eastern teams. Fifteen of these 33 games are against the Metro and eight more are against the Atlantic, so that’s the opportunity lurking amid the danger. But the Isles can’t afford to have even a mini-losing streak against these teams if they hope to catch them in the standings.
If this wasn’t difficult enough, this kind of a compressed schedule is particularly hard on a team like the Islanders, whose skills seem best suited to an uptempo style of play. To maximize what miniscule chance they still have, they will have to play exhausting hockey over a punishing eleven weeks, stealing points and games on the nights that their legs just aren’t there.
So…. congratulations, Doug Weight.