The hottest team in the NHL since the middle of December stepped out on the indoor ice in East Meadow on Monday to practice for one last game before skating off in the direction of a vacation.
The first-place Islanders are hoping to end with one last victory Tuesday night at United Center in Chicago.
“Every game for us has been big, but it would be nice to cap off kind of a great last month, two months, with a win,” Mathew Barzal said at Northwell Health Ice Center. “I know Chicago, it’s a big game for them as well. But we’ve got a confident group in here right now, and we’re looking to go in there and keep things the way they’ve been going.”
Things have been going great. The Islanders have won five straight and a league-best 15 of 18 dating to Dec. 15, enabling them to take a three-point edge in the Metropolitan Division race. After Chicago, they will have a nine-day period with no games scheduled because of the combined All-Star/bye-week break.
“We just want to finish strong,” coach Barry Trotz said.
The Islanders are coming off consecutive shutouts by Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner, but they’ve hardly been giving up shots lately, let alone goals. They’ve allowed three goals in the last five games and held teams to fewer than 20 shots in the last three, thanks to their disciplined structure.
“Just guys playing a role, guys playing as a team and guys being very unselfish, just putting the team ahead of themselves at all times,” Barzal said.
The goalies appreciate that. Lehner received the nicest slice of weekly recognition from the NHL on Monday when he was named first star of the week. He faced 67 shots and stopped 65 of them in winning his three starts and leads the NHL with a 2.02 goals-against average.
“It’s nice when you get recognized sometimes,” Lehner said. “But when the team plays good, there’s going to be personal success for people, too. We’re playing a hell of a team game, and it’s rewarding everyone.”
So with the Islanders playing so well, is the break in the schedule coming at a bad time?
“I think everybody needs a little bit of a break,” Trotz said.
Barzal will be getting less of a break than the others. The 21-year-old center isn’t complaining, though; he’s bound for the All-Star Game on Saturday in San Jose.
“As a young player, my first one, I’m a little nervous,” he said. “But at the same time, I’m just looking forward to it. I’m trying to just enjoy it and soak it up and not get too nervous or be too serious about it.”