The Islanders' 4-2 victory over their crosstown rival New York Rangers was as big of a win as the team has had in the 2016-17 season. Don't get me wrong, it's not nearly enough to get this thing turned around on its own. But by taking down the Metropolitan-leading Rangers, it shows the Islanders and their fans that a run back to playoff contention this season, while improbable, is still a possibility.
Now 4-0-1 in their last five games, the Isles should certainly feel like they have some positive momentum. Wins against perennial divisional contenders the Penguins, Capitals, and Rangers have a way of making both the team and the fan base see the glass half-full. But a quick glimpse at the standings shows how difficult it is to pick up points in this era of the NHL.
The Isles are six points back of a playoff spot (albeit with a game in hand over the Caps, who currently hold the second Wild Card), behind six other teams on the outside-looking-in. In order for them to get back into the postseason conversation, they have a lot more heavy lifting to do, particularly inside the Conference, and they know it.
"It means we still have a lot of work to do," John Tavares told reporters when asked about getting back to the .500 mark (10-10-5). "We made a few adjustments [on the road trip out west] and we started to see some consistency and a little bit of our identity starting to really come out. Generate some more offense and playing with a little more pace to our game. If you're playing with pace that means you're executing."
Still, there are trends to throw cold water on the streak of five games with a point. The Islanders were out-attempted 50-40 against the Rangers, a team that is just as bad as they are Corsi-wise, at even strength. In fact, over this five-game stretch, they Isles have been out-attempted 265 to 222 at 5-on-5.
So yes, the Islanders are cashing more scoring attempts in, which one would assume was bound to happen. Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera were going to find a way eventually. But their goaltending has stepped up in a big - an potentially, unsustainable - way. Jaro Halak and Thomas Greiss have combined for 160 saves against 170 shots (.941 save percentage) during this stretch. That's vastly better than their season-wide average (.912), and even far above their .915 mark that carried them last year. There's definite potential for regression here, and the Isles need to combat that by tightening up their game in all aspects.
"We're playing a lot better hockey, and we know we can still be a lot better so I think that's really the mindset," Tavares said. "[There are] a lot of games here before Christmas […] Even though there still needs to be a lot of improvement, I think we all recognize there's some good building blocks going."
A foundation for a run is certainly there, but there are cracks that need repairing before anyone in Brooklyn should feel it's sturdy enough to build on. Hopefully, with this streak normalizing things a bit, they can start to refine the aspects of their game that will sink them all over again if left unattended.