You may be asking yourself: Where has this Islanders team been?
After a 3-1 win over the Canadiens on Thursday night at Barclays Center, the team that occupied the Eastern Conference basement for much of the first half of the season heads into the All-Star break five points out of a playoff berth, a winner of five of six and looking like the team that advanced to the second round of last spring’s postseason.
“We never lost that belief,” said Josh Bailey, whose power-play slapper beat Carey Price with 4:47 to play to give the Isles a two-goal lead. “When you start getting results, it’s easier to get a little extra belief. We see ourselves climbing the standings, making moves in the right way, and it’s contagious.”
Bailey was a force, combining with linemates John Ta vares and Anders Lee for 17 of the Isles’ 42 shots on Price, who had to be his all-world self just to keep it a close game.
Andrew Ladd had his best night as an Islander, scoring the first two goals, including the eventual winner off a feed from Tavares at 7:20 of the third.
Thomas Greiss made 21 saves, with a few huge ones as the Canadiens pressed for the tie in the third. But the Islanders dominated against a Montreal team that had dominated them, winning the previous seven meetings.
Doug Weight, now 4-0-1 as head coach, hasn’t shied away from reminding his team about streaks such as the losing skid against the Canadiens or where the Isles sit in the standings.
“The first day here [last week], the standings went up in the room and you can look at yourselves sitting in last place,” Weight said. “It’s not shoving the puppy’s face in the carpet or anything like that. They can see the steps we can take. It’s about them, playing for each other, and they believe they’re a good hockey team right now.”
They’re not alone. Beginning when they shut out the Bruins on Jan. 16, one day before Jack Capuano was let go and Weight took over, the Islanders have trailed for exactly 13:26 out of 363:20 played and have allowed eight goals in that six-game span. They look nothing like the team that sank to the bottom of the conference at 6-10-4 and eventually cost Capuano his job.
“You understand what the 82-game season is, and you can’t lose sight of that,” said Tavares, who had two more assists to give him eight goals and five assists in his last eight games as he heads to Los Angeles for All-Star Weekend. “As disappointing as some parts of the season have been, you’re not going to give up or just throw up your hands. We have to keep pushing each other, go back to work and keep trying to find a solution. That’s the fun part of it.”
Ladd certainly seemed to be having fun. He missed four games with a back injury that had been nagging him for some time. Weight said general manager Garth Snow made the decision to shut down Ladd last week, giving him more time to heal and be prepared for a new coach when he returned.
“That was his best game as an Islander,” Weight said. “He was a presence, and that’s what you go out and get an Andrew Ladd for.”
Perhaps a four-day break after the Isles’ best game of the season isn’t ideal. But belief and confidence, two things that waned in the first 42 games, shouldn’t escape a good team so easily.
“I don’t know that we’re doing that much differently,” Calvin de Haan said. “It’s fun to come to the rink these days. That’s the biggest difference.”