Despite not having their best stuff on Tuesday night, the New York Islanders managed to escape Philadelphia with two points after a 4-3 shootout win over the Flyers.
The win continued their recent run against the Flyers, picking up their sixth win in seven games over Philadelphia, also improving their record against the Metropolitan Division to 5-0-2. For the Islanders, it’s a continuation of their strong divisional play from last season, when they went 21-6-3. Add them together and the Islanders have gone 26-6-5 against the Metro since the start of 2014-15.
“It’s just maturing as a group,” Kyle Okposo said. “It’s definitely nice not going into Philly and Pittsburgh thinking, we just want to get a win because we haven’t won there in so long. As a team, as a whole we’ve gotten a lot better over the time I’ve been here and it’s definitely nice to be looking down on some teams in the division and trying to keep them behind you rather than catch up.”
Currently, the Islanders are third in the Metro Division with 37 points. The Penguins are in fifth with 30, but have three games in hand on the Isles. The teams don’t play each other until Jan. 2. The Flyers are in sixth with 28 points with one game in hand.
This type of divisional play wasn’t always the case, as the Islanders were embroiled in some lengthy droughts against teams like the Flyers. Matt Martin remembers being a part of the Islanders team that snapped a 13-game winless streak in Philadelphia in 2012.
“I remember having leads against those teams, going into third periods and late in games and finding ways to lose,” Matt Martin said.
So what changed?
“The roster is a lot better,” Martin said. “We had a lot of young guys when I first got here. We were going through the beginning of a rebuild, so credit to [general manager] Garth [Snow] and the organization for sticking to it and never venturing away. We went through some tough times, had some pretty long losing streaks against division rivals and obviously we’ve played a lot better against them.”
It should also be noted that the Islanders were rebuilding in a very strong division (then called the Atlantic). Three of their divisional rivals – Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and the Rangers – all went to the Stanley Cup Final between 2008 and 2014.
While turning the tables on some old rivals offers vindication, the real benefit is winning four-point games, especially in the NHL’s playoff format where the top three teams in each division make the playoffs.
“I don’t think you can go too far in the regular season or the playoffs if you don’t play well inside your division,” Martin said. “I don’t think you’ll even make it. They are important games, games you need to win and we’ve been doing a better job at that.”
The Islanders square off against two more Metro Division opponents over the weekend, playing the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday and hosting the New Jersey Devils on Sunday. The Islanders are 1-0-0 against the Blue Jackets this year and 1-0-1 vs. the Devils.