The most obvious benefit of the Islanders’ run of 10 wins in their last 12 games is, of course, accumulating precious points for the playoff push.
But the ability to win these tight games — lately, even when not playing at their best — in the second half of the season also is important.
“The best thing is we know how to play in those situations,” right wing Leo Komarov said. “We don’t really get nervous.”
The Islanders, who did not practice Friday, will conclude their season series against the Rangers on Saturday afternoon at Barclays Center after escaping Madison Square Garden with a 4-3 win Thursday night. The Rangers built a 17-1 shot advantage in the third period, but Josh Bailey’s goal at 18:34 broke a 3-3 tie.
The win didn’t lower the “red flag” in the Islanders’ performances that coach Barry Trotz first mentioned after a 4-3 escape at St. Louis last Saturday. The Islanders then had a season-high six-game winning streak snapped in Tuesday night’s 4-3 loss to the Hurricanes at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum. That game featured the same inattention to detail and defensive-zone puck mismanagement they displayed against the Blues for 60 minutes and against the Rangers in the third period.
“[We need] a little more skin in the game,” Trotz said. “Like with our wall play. It’s poke-and-hope rather than play through the guy and make sure the puck is out. When you make the poke-and-hope play, maybe it goes to the red line but they hammer it back in. We’ve just got to be more invested. If you have to get on the forecheck, move your feet and get in on the forecheck.”
Trotz’s concern comes from knowing the Islanders cannot continue that less-than-ideal play in their upcoming games.
The Rangers have not won in Brooklyn in seven tries, but in this rivalry, nothing seems to matter except for the immediate moment.
“Our special teams were great,” goalie Robin Lehner said after the Islanders’ power play went 2-for-3 on Thursday and the penalty kill held the Rangers without a shot on a 55-second five-on-three advantage in the third period. “But we have to do better.”
The Islanders will conclude a weekend back-to-back against the NHL-leading Lightning, who will bring a remarkable 17-1-1 record since Nov. 29 into Saturday night’s game in Buffalo. Lehner, who made 27 saves against the Rangers to extend his career-high winning streak to eight games, and Thomas Greiss likely will split this weekend’s games.
The Islanders, in a grueling stretch of nine games in 15 days leading into the All-Star break, will play at Washington on Friday. It’s their first trip there since Trotz led the Capitals to the Stanley Cup in June.