The New York Islanders resume their post-All-Star season stretch run tonight in Philadelphia with a shiny new toy and a hope for both short-and long-term boosts to their future.
Bo Horvat, acquired at the beginning of the bye week and signed to an 8-year extension at the end of it, makes his Islanders debut, likely to line up with Mathew Barzal. Pushing Barzal to the wing enables the Islanders to maintain their strength up the middle — now Horvat, Brock Nelson, J-G Pageau and Casey Cizikas — while upgrading their forward offense. It’s something they surely welcome while struggling to get over two goals per game during their many struggles before the break.
That’s for what it means right now.
For the long term, Horvat joining for what could be nine postseason pushes means a new era has begun, one we’ll likely associate with Horvat, Barzal and Nelson up front, plus Noah Dobson and Ilya Sorokin at the back. (Okay, okay, there’s Pelech and Pulock too, also signed long-term, as is captain Anders Lee and, alright, et cetera, you can quickly trickle down the list of “Also important!” pieces, but we’re trying to be brief here and also use the lazy crutch of alliteration.)
Back to the near-term stakes: The Islanders (25-22-5) enter the action in sixth place in the Metro, just four points above the Flyers (21-21-9), plus two points and two teams outside of the wild card, with fewer games to play than the Penguins and Sabres. The Panthers also lurk, just a point behind with the same number of games played and squandered.
It may all end poorly and short of the postseason goal, but the Islanders are likely to make it interesting most of the way. Adam Pelech and Kyle Palmieri returned just before the break, each providing a needed lift. Dobson is back healthy for tonight. Ilya Sorokin didn’t break or tear anything in the All-Star goalie torture lab.
Try to enjoy the ride of what’s to come. Most of these guys aren’t leaving anytime soon.