As always, the Islanders hope to be playing their best hockey in the playoffs.
Coach Barry Trotz sees his team trending in that direction.
"The guys are dialing in," Trotz said. "Our defensive game has been good."
The Islanders, with five regular-season games remaining, will open a back-to-back series in Buffalo on Monday night against the East Division-trailing Sabres. That’s followed by two games against the seventh-place Devils at Nassau Coliseum before the season finale in Boston on May 10.
A third consecutive playoff berth was clinched with Saturday night’s 3-0 win over the Rangers at the Coliseum. Coupled with Thursday’s 4-0 win at Madison Square Garden, it erased the sting of the preceding 0-2-1 series against the Capitals.
Semyon Varlamov leads the NHL with seven shutouts after back-to-back shutouts against the Rangers; he also had a shutout as the Islanders opened their three-game set with the Capitals with a 1-0 shootout loss. After a 6-3 loss to the Caps, also at the Coliseum, the Islanders lost, 1-0, in Washington on Tuesday with Ilya Sorokin in net.
So the Islanders have allowed eight goals in their last seven games, including six in one game. Varlamov’s shutout streak of 212:57 has surpassed Chico Resch’s old team record of 178:29, set in 1975-76.
"Our defensive game against good teams, good offensive teams, has been good," Trotz said. "Two one-goal games against the Caps. We didn’t end up on the right side, but they’re a pretty explosive team. I thought we did a pretty good job defensively going against a very offensive team in the Rangers. That part of our game is there."
That, of course, starts with the goaltending. Varlamov and Sorokin, who are expected to split the two games against the Sabres as the Isles conclude their season with six games in 10 days, have totaled 10 shutouts. The Isles’ 114 goals against are the second fewest in the NHL.
"Both of our goaltenders have been outstanding all year, really," Trotz said. "I’m really happy for Varly because Varly is as low-maintenance a goaltender as we’ve ever had, and we’ve had some low-maintenance goaltenders. And Varly will tell you it’s a team thing."
Trotz also seems settled on his four forward lines after much tinkering. Grinder Leo Komarov has solidified his spot on top-line center Mathew Barzal’s left wing and, for now, Travis Zajac and Michael Dal Colle remain out of the mix.
Notes & quotes: Varlamov’s shutout streak is the 50th longest in league history, and with one more period of scoreless hockey, he would leap to 24th on the all-time list. Two scoreless periods would elevate him to ninth. Another shutout would leave him in eighth place. Alec Connell of the old Ottawa Senators is the league’s record-holder with a shutout streak of 460:49 from Jan. 28-Feb. 22, 1928. Brian Boucher — third overall — is the modern-day leader with a streak of 332:01 for the Coyotes from Dec. 22, 2003-Jan. 11, 2004 . . . The Islanders did not practice on Sunday.