Now would be a good time for the Islanders to turn into a dominant team on home ice.
“We have to do some good things here at home,” coach Lane Lambert said. “We know that. There’s no question about it. It starts with one at a time.”
The Islanders opened a season-high six-game homestand against the NHL-worst Sharks on Tuesday night as they settled into a cycle of a game every other day at UBS Arena through Dec. 15.
“We’ll take it game by game,” Anders Lee said. “But by the end of it, we want to be looking back on it and saying we took advantage of it. We know the importance of the next couple of weeks. It’s a good opportunity here.”
The homestand started with some good news as both leading goal scorer Brock Nelson and top defenseman Noah Dobson were available to play after missing Monday’s practice for maintenance and being listed as day-to-day.
And while it’s certainly hyperbolic to suggest this is a make-or-break part of their schedule, given the Islanders just passed the quarter pole of their 82-game season, it is fair to note a strong homestand could kickstart them up the uber-tight playoff standings.
Entering Tuesday, the Islanders were one of five teams within four points in the Metropolitan Division. They were also one of 10 teams within five points in the Eastern Conference playoff chase.
“Everybody’s really tight,” Lambert said. “There’s so much parity it’s actually pretty impressive when you think about it. We have a huge block of games here.”
“I think it’s so important to play well at home and build that momentum at home,” defenseman Ryan Pulock said. “When you have a stretch at home like this, every second night, you want to get off to a good start and roll it that way.”
The Islanders entered Tuesday’s match with a 4-3-4 home mark, solid on one hand when put into the context of gaining points in eight of their first 11 games at UBS Arena. On the other hand, it seems like a bit of a missed opportunity for a stronger start after the Islanders played their first three games of the season at home and six of eight in October but exited the gate at 4-2-2, including 3-1-2 at home.
The Islanders had a two-goal lead in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Red Wings on Oct. 30 and also were ahead in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Devils on Oct. 20 and a 7-4 defeat to the Avalanche on Oct. 24.
“You’re going to go through ups and downs in a year,” Pulock said. “Some teams start really hot and then maybe hit a roadblock somewhere. Some teams maybe struggle a little bit then get going. It really changes. The start of the year, we wanted to be a little better than we were. But we’ve kind of clawed ourselves back to a decent spot. Now, we’ve just got to move forward.”
The homestand also includes, in order, the Metropolitan Division-trailing Blue Jackets, the Kings, Maple Leafs, Ducks and the Atlantic Division-leading Bruins. The Kings and Maple Leafs also held playoff spots entering Tuesday.
“I feel like we’ve been on the road so much lately that we haven’t really had a second to debrief and relax,” Mathew Barzal said after the Islanders completed a 2-1-0 road trip and played eight of their last 10 on the road. “This homestand is big. The way we’re playing right now, things are going well. We’ve just got to continue to play this way.”