We cannot yet assume that the Islanders will make the Stanley Cup playoffs, but we can assume this: If they do, and if they are to make a deep run, the Bruins are the sort of elite team they will have to get past.
That is why regular-season games such as the one at Barclays Center on Saturday night mean a little more than mere standings points, and what made the Islanders’ 3-2 overtime loss on a power-play goal by Patrice Bergeron a little extra-deflating for the team and its fans.
Boston entered the game with 63 points — second in the NHL and good for first place in the Atlantic Division — and started one of the best forward lines in the league in Brad Marchand, Bergeron and David Pastrnak.
As things stand now, the Islanders would not have to deal with the Bruins until the Eastern Conference finals, but if they happen to fall into a wild-card spot, it could happen sooner than that.
That was not the point Saturday, though; Jan. 11 is too soon for such matchmaking. But it is not too soon to assess where the team stands.
Some Islanders bought the premise that the game was a measuring stick. Mathew Barzal, the team’s lone All-Star and a factor all night with a goal and an assist, did not.
“Um, I don’t think so,” he said. “I think we know where we stand. We played Colorado the other night. We’ve played some top teams as of late, Washington, and had some good games. It didn’t take us playing the Boston Bruins to know we’re a good team. Just two good teams going at it.”
Fair enough. That is exactly what Islanders fans would want players to say and think.
But it is OK for the rest of us to be taking notes.
Entering Saturday night, the Islanders had done well against the league’s top teams. They had won their most recent game against each of the five division leaders (including those tied for first place). Last Monday, as Barzal referenced, they beat the high-scoring Avalanche, 1-0.
Before Saturday’s game, coach Barry Trotz was asked about the Islanders seeming to bear down against high-powered teams in general and top offenses in particular.
“I think we’re more diligent, obviously, against [the top offenses],” Trotz said. “I think we understand what they’re trying to do and we commit to what we have to do. I think sometimes it’s a respect factor for what those high-powered teams can do, so we’re probably a little more diligent.”
The flip side is what Trotz called a “looser” approach against lesser opponents.
Trotz said there is a tendency toward “thinking we can be more powerful than them, if you will, offensively, and it just works against us.”
Defenseman Scott Mayfield, who scored the first Islanders goal, said: “We’ve played some really good games against teams that are in the playoffs . . . I think we like rising to play a line like that [the top Bruins line], guys with that many points. We have to make sure we do it every night now.”
At one point in the first period, the Islanders were outshooting the Bruins 14-2, and overall they handled their top line well. So the evening was not a total loss, beyond the fact that the Islanders salvaged a point. Trotz said that if his team plays with that level of detail and energy, it will win its share of games.
There is work to be done. Though the Islanders’ balance is admirable, their lack of elite scoring punch was a concern entering the season, and it remains one.
They have about three regular-season months to play before the games that really count.
Teams such as the Bruins will be waiting for them. All they can do for now is measure themselves and try to give some of those future opponents something to remember come spring.