The Isles are just one point out of the final Wild Card with 13 games to go. So what does the team need to do to reach the playoffs? Brian Erni and Andy Graziano discuss...
Andy, with their loss to the Jets on Thursday, the Islanders suffered a major setback in their quest for the second Wild Card. So what does this team need to do to make sure they qualify for their third straight postseason?
Andy Graziano, SNY.TV Twitter
Well, I'd say the change has to begin with their defensive coverage, which has been manically up-and-down for a couple of weeks now. Travis Hamonic has not been good since his return for injury, and the forwards look too lackadaisical in their back-checking.
What about the goaltending? I know goalies can look a lot better when the defensive corps in front of them are on their game, but J-F Berube has not been up to snuff lately. I know we discussed it a few weeks ago, and you kind of talked me out of bringing up Jaro Halak. Is it finally time to do that?
After all, how long can we expect Thomas Greiss to be superhuman?
How I regret that now...
Greiss has been under siege lately and Berube has been...well, horrid is being kind, I think. With the lack of coverage that the Islanders are showing, I'm not sure Halak could do much better. But at this point, they might have nothing to lose and the playoffs to gain. As you said, they can't start Greiss 13 straight, and they clearly have zero confidence in Berube.
It'll be interesting to see what they do there, especially as the schedule toughens up. Columbus, followed by trips to the Garden, Pittsburgh, then back home for Boston and Nashville. There isn't really a powder puff team in that mix right there.
It's ridiculous, isn't it? Plus three more sets of back-to-backs: Pittsburgh-Boston, Philadelphia-New Jersey, and New Jersey-Ottawa to end the season. The schedule has not been kind and doesn't do them any favors down the stretch.
So maybe you recall Halak just to play the back end of those three? The bigger issue might be, with Johnny Boychuk out, where exactly is Ryan Pulock? He could really help that PP2 unit, which has struggled greatly.
I agree on Pulock. I mean, if not now, when? The kid played great in the playoffs last year. Look at the life Josh Ho-Sang provided. Maybe Pulock can do the same. Still, seems like an abnormally large amount of loose strings to tie up in the middle of March in the heat of a playoff race. But then again, this season has been anything but ordinary.
So where do things fall? Amidst all of this uncertainty, do you see the Isles being able to grab that final Wild Card slot?
I hate these types of questions almost as much as preseason predictions.
I'm going to say no, Brian. I think they are too out of sync at such a critical juncture, and the extremely difficult schedule remaining will just be too much. Their last break comes after Saturday's game against Columbus, as they get three days off to the Rangers on Wednesday.
Now, Toronto has a tough stretch also, especially their last few games to close out the season. And the Lightning, who are right on the Isles' heels, are banged up. But from what I've seen the last three weeks, it's difficult to feel very confident about their chances right at the moment.
I'm going to lean toward the affirmative on the playoffs. I've written this team off as far back as December, and every time I've buried them, they've made liars out of me every time. At this point, I feel like they're playing with house money, and I think that makes a dangerous team. If you would have told me on New Years Day that we'd even be talking about this on St. Patrick's Day, I would have signed for it, and I wouldn't be surprised if there is a similar attitude in that locker room.
To me, this race is the kind of stuff fans live for: a fight to the finish. So I'll say they pull it off. But even if they fall short, Isles fans probably feel a lot better about this team headed into next year than they would have in the dead of winter.