John Tavares had to let out a bit of a chuckle when asked about the Islanders sitting in a tie for the Metropolitan Division lead with the Penguins after Saturday's 4-1 win over Pittsburgh.
"There's still 62 games left," Tavares said. "We want to give ourselves the best opportunity to get to the playoffs . . . If we're there at the end of 82, that's what's most important."
He's right about that, so the fact that the Islanders could have first place all to themselves if they get at least a point against the Flyers on Monday night at the Coliseum and the Penguins get no points in Boston is a neat footnote, nothing more.
If anything, the most important thing the Islanders can do is look down the standings, not up. Monday night is the third of six straight games within the division. The Islanders know all too well how much early-season losses can knock a team out of the playoff chase before all the leaves are off the trees.
So the Islanders' 14-6-0 record, 8-2-0 in their past 10, has put some distance between themselves and the Metro Division pack -- the Flyers sit in sixth, 10 points behind the Islanders with a game in hand. The third-place Rangers are six points back.
Even a cursory glance at the NHL standings on Thanksgiving from the past decade shows that you need to be in playoff position, or within a point or two, by late November to have a realistic shot at the postseason.
Coach Jack Capuano doesn't want his team thinking about the failures of past seasons.
"This is a new team with a new attitude," he said after the Islanders completed their home-and-home sweep against the Penguins.
Capuano's team -- on this date last season -- was tied for seventh in the Metro, headed in the wrong direction. In fact, they were coming off losses to these same two teams, the Penguins and Flyers, on consecutive road nights a year ago, during a 10-game road losing streak.
So Capuano has it right: new team, new attitude and a new vantage point -- looking down on almost all of the teams in their division. First place is nice, but putting up points and pulling away from the pack is far, far more important right now.
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