The Islanders have qualified for the playoffs for the third straight season and will know by Tuesday which East Division foe they will face in the first round.
But the same yearly success has not been duplicated with AHL-Bridgeport, their top minor-league affiliate. The Sound Tigers finished this truncated season 8-14-2, playing solely against the Rangers’ Hartford affiliate and the Bruins’ Providence affiliate. It marks the eighth time in 11 years Bridgeport will not play postseason hockey.
To be fair, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of last season’s AHL playoffs and there was no postseason tournament for the three-team Atlantic Division this year.
Still, 8-14-2 is 8-14-2, even with a 5-1-1 finish.
"Anytime you practice, you’re trying to win the practice, you try to win the game," Bridgeport general manager Chris Lamoriello said. "I think the record is always something you have to look at. For us, we were disappointed to be on the wrong side of .500. We were satisfied with some of the things we went through during the year. If you look at the last few weeks, we were happy to make some adjustments and then see some positive results in those adjustments."
There also must be some understanding of what the players lost in this unique season beyond a full schedule. Health guidelines limited contact off the ice. There were Zoom team meetings. League-wide salary cuts forced many players to scramble financially.
"I think it’s a lot of respect for the guys on the team that we all came together and we were able to succeed in this odd year," captain Seth Helgeson said. "You don’t realize how much stuff you do take for granted. It might be just the smallest things, whether it’s fans in the stands or being around the guys. Not having restrictions around the rink. You definitely have an appreciation for everything we did have last year."
But the true measure of AHL success is how the young talent develops to eventually benefit the NHL squad.
So, there were certainly positive signs. Defensemen Bode Wilde and Mitch Vande Sompel, both coming off major injuries, made it through the season healthy. And defenseman Samuel Bolduc, a 6-4, 215-pound road block in front of the crease, also showed a good offensive touch with six goals and eight assists.
"For me, I think it’s the execution and the little details that can make a big difference in the game," Bolduc said. "So, at the NHL it would probably be even a bigger thing."
Simon Holmstrom, selected 23rd overall in 2019, had just four goals and three assists in 24 games (and was a minus-14, worst among the forwards). But after also playing in Sweden this season, Holmstrom was encouraged he can improve his game.
"For me, it’s just to be able to play with intensity the whole time," Holmstrom. "Get stronger, get a better shot. Just all around, especially the intensity level. Always keep it up."
The Islanders never expected Kyle Palmieri to fully replace injured captain Anders Lee, a former 40-goal scorer who had a prominent role both on the top line and the first power-play unit.
But Palmieri knew after the Islanders shipped a package that included a first-round pick to the Devils for him and Travis Zajac on April 7, the expectation was for him to be a consistent offensive producer.
Instead, Palmieri had one goal and two assists in his first 15 games with the Islanders.
But Palmieri also knows he still has the playoffs to prove his worth. Palmieri went to the playoffs four times with the Ducks from 2011-15 — with seven goals and five assists in 33 games — before his five-plus seasons with the Devils yielded just one playoff berth. Palmieri had one goal and two assists in five games in 2018.
"I came in here and wanted to try and find a way to fit in and contribute," Palmieri said. "Right now it hasn’t exactly gone the way I hoped. As a group, we’re excited to try find our game and we’re really looking forward to getting into some playoff hockey."
Mathew Barzal had his consecutive games streak snapped at 284 when he was rested in Tuesday’s 4-3 shootout loss in Buffalo. Brock Nelson reached 300 on Saturday night against the Devils. Here are the Islanders’ top iron man streaks, courtesy of team statistician Eric Hornick:
1. Billy Harris 576 – Oct. 7, 1972-Nov. 30, 1979
2. Bobby Nystrom 301 – Jan. 7, 1975-Nov. 25, 1978
3. Brock Nelson 300 – March 16, 2017-present
4. Anders Lee 295 – Jan. 26, 2017-March 13, 2021
5. Mathew Barzal 284 – Oct. 6, 2017-May 3, 2021; Matt Moulson 284 – Oct. 3, 2009-April 4, 2013