The New York Islanders arrived at the NHL’s unofficial halfway point Wednesday, as the team dispersed for All-Star Break. It’s a week off for everyone not named John Tavares, as the captain heads to Nashville for the All-Star Game. But before the Islanders head home – the Minnesotans and Travis Hamonic trading cold for colder – for some rest and relaxation, there was one more R: reflection.
“We’ve done some good things this year, we maybe haven’t been at our best for an extended period,” Hamonic said. “You can look at that as a positive that some of our best hockey is in front of us.”
At 25-16-6 (56 points) the Islanders are seven points behind their pace from last season, when they were 31-14-1 (63 points) at the All-Star break. Others agree with Hamonic that they haven’t played at their best consistently this season, but that hasn’t hurt their place in the standings. The Islanders are third in the Metropolitan Division, three points behind the Rangers with two games in hand.
“You look at the standings and it’s very close,” Hamonic said. “I don’t know if there’s been a year where it’s this close this deep into the season. There are a lot of teams that believe they’re right there and we’re one of them.”
The Islanders were 3-1-1 heading into the All-Star break. Subtract a 4-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings and they felt like they were finding that rhythm on the ice. They took seven of a possible 10 points heading into the break and felt they deserved another in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Jan. 17, when they peppered Ryan Miller with 48 shots. It was their third-most productive stretch of the season, following a 10-game point streak (8-0-2) in November/December and a 6-1-2 run in October.
“Our last four games [before Detroit] have been pretty good,” Ryan Strome said. “It’s an important time for us. The last 35 games we’re really going to know a lot about our team here. We have a real good chance to make something happen in the playoffs and we all really believe in this group.”
Internal expectations are high for this group, which was one win away from a playoff series win last spring and has carried that as motivation this season. But their record this season is perhaps more impressive than the Islanders let on, given the unique challenge of moving to a new building this season. While Barclays Center is a state-of-the-art facility offering the Islanders a bigger locker room and a more plush lounge among other benefits, there was still an adjustment period when settling into new digs.
“For us it’s behind us now,” Brock Nelson, the Islanders’ leading goal scorer, said. “That goes for anything. After you get used to it you settle into a rhythm and find your way a bit.”
With a routine established, the All-Star Break couldn’t be coming at a better time for the Islanders. The schedule picks up after the break, with 13 games in 27 days in February, a season-high 16 games in March with five games in eight nights in April, plus a make-up game with the Philadelphia Flyers. In total, that’s 35 games in 68 days, 16 against divisional opponents.
“It’s going to be a tough grind throughout the whole second half. It’s certainly not going to get any easier, so we have to use this opportunity to get some rest,” Hamonic said. “It’s playoff hockey from here on out.”