The hectic, no-rest-for-the-weary part of the schedule is now upon the New York Islanders as they fight for every last bit of standings points in the NHL's crowded playoff picture.
New York currently sits four points back of the second-place New York Rangers with a game in hand in guaranteed playoff positioning. But they are just one point ahead of the New Jersey Devils (with two games in hand) and two points up on the Pittsburgh Penguins (even in games). It's that thin of a line from being given a playoff spot outside the wildcard to being on the outside looking in.
Looking further at the overall conference picture, Washington and Florida are Nos. 1 and 2 in the standings due to leading their respective divisions. The Capitals, who come to Brooklyn Thursday, are pretty much locked in while Florida has stumbled lately, giving hope to Detroit and Boston that there might be some ground there that they can make up. The third spot in the conference (Rangers) is only separated from the 10th spot (Carolina) by 10 points. The Western conference divide for the same positioning is 15 points.
The move to Brooklyn this season factored into the Islanders having more home games earlier in their schedule to help them get acclimated -- 10 of first 15 games were at Barclays Center -- and it has led to what awaits the team in the final 53 days of the hockey calendar.
After Thursday, 14 of their next 19 games are on the road, including a four-game trip out to Western Canada from Feb. 25 (Calgary) to March 3 (Winnipeg) and a game against the Rangers that can be a four-point swing in the standings. They have 27 games in their next 53 days, and just 11 of them are at home.
It is most certainly going to be a season-defining stretch for a team that has been consistently inconsistent when traveling so far this year. For all the conjecture and assumptions being made about the Islanders' new home and whether the players "like it" or not (I have some strong opinions on that, but for another column), the team has been very successful in Brooklyn. New York is 19-8-3 at home and have won four straight in February, outscoring opponents 22-6.
But a middling 11-11-3 mark on the road for a team that has found success there in the past has to be reversed. Coming into this year, New York had been 43-32-7 over the last two seasons on the road, including 22-14-5 just last season. They have failed to win more than two straight road games this year, failing three times to do so. Since starting out 9-6-3 through December, they have dropped five of their past seven on the road, four of those coming in horrific style (Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Detroit and Carolina).
The only silver lining about the upcoming schedule is that the Islanders have only 10 games out of 27 against teams currently in playoff positioning. But as mentioned above, the number of points that separate the top from the bottom, especially in the East, makes that a changing target each and every night. Tomorrow, that 10 could be 15 … or eight.
Challenging? Yes. Daunting? Sure. Defining? Absolutely. But if the Islanders get back to being the road warriors of a year ago, it's certainly not insurmountable.
Calvin de Haan left Monday's 4-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings in the second period and did not return for the third. Nobody seemed to even notice when the much-improved defender picked up the injury only to hear from the team that it's of the "lower body" variety.
"He's a tough kid, so when he's not able to go back in the game, it's a concern for sure," head coach Jack Capuano told reporters after the game. "We don't know how long it will be."
With the team off today, Newsday's Arthur Staple said it was more likely additional information would not be available until after Wednesday's practice. Anything of long duration for de Haan would be bad news for the Islanders with early over-performer Adam Pelech already likely done for the season. Options would be a bottom pairing of Marek Zidlicky and Brian Strait, or one of the two paired with Scott Mayfield or, dare we say, Ryan Pulock? The issue there is three of those four are right-handed shots and would be playing the off-side if not paired with Strait.
All the reason a trade for a depth defenseman could be in the cards before the trading deadline in less than two weeks. Not having that veteran with experience really hurt New York in its playoff loss to the Capitals last year when injuries decimated the blue line. After passing on Christian Erhoff, Rob Scuderi was placed on the waiver wire today by the Chicago Blackhawks and has one year left on his current contract. The Syosset, New York, native has played 104 playoff games and won two Stanley Cups.