Andy Graziano, SNY.TV Twitter
Fans and media alike had written the Islanders off after a poor start had them hovering at NHL .500 and put the team into a tailspin that threatened their playoff hopes. After three consecutive losses to open 2017, which included dropping points in Colorado, Arizona and Florida, those cries became louder, with myself very much at the forefront.
Since then, the team has set out on a personal mission to prove us all wrong. A 7-1-1 run, which included the firing of head coach Jack Capuano, has New York three points out of the second wild card spot, holding three games in hand on the Philadelphia Flyers. Now, don't get me wrong, they still might not make the postseason, as sportsclubstats currently has them at 45%, but at least we can safely talk about the prospect instead of focusing on the 2017 NHL Draft.
Amid the turmoil that seems to surround the team weekly, the latest being more arena talk and more, regurgitated discussion with captain John Tavares over his impending contract status at the All-Star game in Los Angeles, they are 5-0-1 under interim head coach Doug Weight and are not just winning. They are beating excellent hockey teams in the process and improving their possession numbers, which have been at the bottom of the league all season.
During the run, they have taken down the Dallas Stars, Los Angeles Kings, Columbus Blue Jackets, Montreal Canadiens and most recently, the Washington Capitals, whom they defeated at Barclays Center last night, 3-2, behind more stellar defensive play.
"We dug ourselves a hole early, lost some tough games in some tough scenarios," Weight said last night. "Now, we're digging ourselves out. There is a long way to go, but we are in the conversation again. Guys believe and with each win, confidence in each other, the way they're playing, we expect to win before the puck is dropped. A lot of cliché things, but they are running through our team now. We need to keep the same focus and move forward."
Last night, it wasn't Tavares leading the way, but a huge third period goal by Ryan Strome, setup by some brilliance along the wall by Anthony Beauvillier, who continues to grow with leaps and bounds seemingly each shift, and Alan Quine, who played a tremendously strong two-way game and tied the score at one with a power play marker in the second period.
Newly signed Thomas Greiss was solid yet again, making 28 saves and improving to eighth in goals against average and fifth in save percentage in the league.
"There's a little bit of a buzz, positive energy and I think that's contagious," Brock Nelson told the media scrum. "When that's going on in the locker room, it's pretty easy to go out there and just relax. When you have fun and just play hockey, good things seem to happen."
For New York to continue on this recent upward trajectory, they are going to have to do it on the road, as the league's most top heavy home schedule has now come to a close with the advancement of the calendar to February. Only 12 of their final 34 games will be in Brooklyn, with a daunting nine-game road trip on the horizon, beginning on the Feb. 21. But looking at the teams they will face, fully buying into the 'any given night' mantra, mind you, there is an opportunity for the team to continue banking points as they push for the playoffs. Only five of their 13 games during the month are against teams that are currently holding playoff spots.
Then, of course, is the trade deadline, coming up fast on Feb. 28. Just three weeks ago, the Islanders were thought to be sellers. Now, can general manager Garth Snow erase some of his mistakes that stretch back to the summer of 2016, and buy something worthwhile? Or does he continue to show faith in the current roster, a strategy that has not always worked out?