Together, the New York Islanders have fought back from a hard-felt winless streak and are now just 11 points out of playoff contention. With 24 points still up for grabs, the Islanders know playoffs are still possible, but it’s going to be an uphill battle. To make it, they’ll need to post a near perfect record in their last 12 games.
“Everything is possible,” defenseman Travis Hamonic
said. “We’re always going to try and play well. We want to win every hockey game. We take it game-by-game, period-by-period and see what happens. We want to make sure we win as many games as possible and develop some good habits, especially throughout this last stretch.”
The last dozen games are going to be a challenge; half of the games will be played against division rivals. Thus, Tuesday night’s matchup with the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden is going to be one of their toughest tests they’ve had in recent weeks.
Thus, the Islanders are prepared and know what kind of game they’re in for.
|Travis Hamonic #36 of the New York Islanders plays the puck while being checked by Travis Zajac #19 of the New Jersey Devils during the game at the Prudential Center on March 12, 2011 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images) |
“They have a quick strike offense,” Hamonic said. “I think they really like to get in on the attack. All of their forwards can skate and their defense can definitely skate as well. So they’re a team that likes to have the puck, they like to pursue the puck and they’re a North-South kind of team. We’re going to have to make sure we keep everyone in front of us and just be ready to outmatch their work ethic right from the start of the game.”
When playing against their crosstown adversaries this season, luck hasn’t exactly been on the Islanders side. The New York franchises have faced off four with the Isladners winning once, 6-4, on the afternoon of October 11 at the Coliseum. Despite the record, the rivalry produces an exciting atmosphere and an Islanders win in the midst of this playoff hunt for both teams would be exciting.
“To be 35 to 40 minutes away from each other, it’s something that’s pretty cool and pretty unique,” Hamonic said. “It’s one of the biggest rivalries that I’ve heard of. That’s my kind of hockey. I like playing those kinds of games, those physical games. It’s fun for the fans. It’s fun for everyone in New York. I think both teams definitely enjoy the challenge.”
In order to stay seeded in the playoff race, Tuesday night’s game is a must win for the Rangers; their 76 points have them rounding out the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Therefore, an Islanders win could bump the Rangers down a few points, when they’re trying to maintain that last playoff spot.
“They’re fighting for their lives right now,” forward Kyle Okposo
said. “They’re in eighth. They’re going to have a lot of emotion and we’ve been playing well, so we want to come out and beat them. It’s going to be an intense game like it always is when we play them.”
But the Rangers haven’t faced the “new” Islanders. Since the All Star Break, they’ve failed to disappoint, earning points in all but five of their contests (12-5-4) and have posted points in all seven games they’ve played this month (4-0-3).
“They know where we are,” Islanders interim head coach Jack Capuano said. “We haven’t really talked much (about the standings). We set goals for ourselves after the All Star Break and how we wanted to finish the year. We’re on path of doing a lot of good things and we’re going to continue to maintain our focus on how we have to play.”
No doubt the Islanders have had a bumpy season, with highs and lows, but improvement has been on the horizon for quite some time and the team has finally started to see some of the fruits of their hard work.
“We set a goal after the All Star Break, of being one of the top teams in the National Hockey League and really prove to people how good that we are,” Hamonic said. “I think we’ve done a really good job of proving our talent in here. But it doesn’t mean anything right now. We have to make sure that we keep on pushing and finish out the year strong.”
More than anything, what this season has showed the team is that when facing adversity, there’s still a battle to overcome and with the right attitude and frame of mind, anything is possible.
“We’ve been playing well as a team,” Okposo said. “There are guys that have been playing terrific, probably having some of the best stretches in their young careers and that all bolds well for us as a team.”
He continued, “Al (Montoya) has been shutting the door back there. The defense has been solid and all of our forwards have been contributing. So that’s the kind of makeup of a team that you want and that’s what we have right now.”
|Al Montoya #35 of the New York Islanders plays the puck against the New Jersey Devils during the game at the Prudential Center on March 12, 2011 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils won 3-2. (Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images) |
With that, each player on the Islanders roster understands they’ve been given an unbelievable opportunity to showcase their talents and one line that has definitely stepped up has been center Josh Bailey
with power forwards Blake Comeau and Matt Martin
“Blake (Comeau) is playing terrific,” Okposo said. “He got his 20th goal of the season last game. And Josh (Bailey) has turned it on lately. He’s been playing really well for us. Matt Martin
stepped right in on that line and has made an impact. He makes hard plays, good plays, and he compliments those two well. He can muck it up and grind it up in the corners, but he can also make a play. He’s been a really nice addition to that line.”
When Capuano originally placed Martin on the line with Bailey and Comeau, he was unsure of the combination. Since then, the power forward has made a lasting impact and has opened all areas of the ice, allowing his linemates to score some crucial points.
“At the start, I didn’t know how it was going to work out,” Capuano said. “He’s making the best of his opportunity. He’s probably not used to the minutes, playing 16-18 minutes a night. Some nights I thought he looked a little tired, but I think he’s maintaining where he has to be right now to contribute and play those minutes.”
With the goaltending misfortune doled out to the Islanders this season, there has also been an assortment of bright spots, including the play of Al Montoya
. Acquired from the Phoenix Coyotes organization on Feb. 9, Montoya has come in and shined between the pipes. In 13 games, the goaltender has posted a 7-2-3 record, a 2.09 goals against average and a .926 save percentage.
“He stepped right in to a tough situation and really made the most of his opportunity,” Okposo said. “I’m happy for him. He’s fighting for a job right now and he’s just been terrific for us. There’s no reason to suspect anything is going to change in the near future.”
Capuano agreed. He said, “For me, it’s a situation of a young man making the best of his opportunity. He’s come in here, he understands where he is in his career, he’s been given an opportunity and he’s making the best of it. He’s been square to the puck and vocal with our defense. He’s been controlling his rebounds. But to me, he’s been a competitor. He wants to win every night and he’s been playing exceptionally well. I give him a lot of credit.”