The concerns about the Islanders’ chances of reaching the postseason, or their ability to compete against the NHL’s elite if they do qualify, certainly are more pronounced after back-to-back disheartening road losses to the Lightning and Hurricanes over the weekend.
The concerns about the impossible-to-watch power play have always been there. The only hope there with four games remaining is if Mathew Barzal can return from injury and somehow instantaneously make it work. More about that soon.
But there’s the real possibility the Islanders will be out of an Eastern Conference wild-card spot for the first time since Feb. 16 when they face the Lightning on Thursday at UBS Arena. If the Penguins and Panthers both win on Tuesday, that will be the case.
The Islanders’ odds of reaching the playoffs have plummeted from 94.2% after Wednesday’s 2-1 shootout win over the Capitals to 71.5% after the back-to-back losses, according to Hockey-Reference.com.
The Lightning repeatedly exploited the Islanders’ defense to create a numbers advantage on the rush, turning it into a lopsided game even though the Islanders took 38 shots and created 61 chances. Coach Lane Lambert called it an “awareness” issue.
Such “awareness” issues against potent playoff attacks such as the Lightning, Maple Leafs, Rangers, Bruins, Hurricanes or Devils would lead to quick elimination.
Then the Islanders generated little against the Hurricanes’ strong forecheck, mustering only 22 shots.
Memo to the Islanders: Relying on Vezina Trophy-worthy goalie Ilya Sorokin to repel wave after wave of attack is not a healthy playoff strategy.
But the Islanders might be able to withstand other deficiencies if they could generate more than four power-play goals in a month, which was their March output in 30 opportunities. They’ve started April 0-for-5 with six combined shots.
Overall, the Islanders are 5-for-46 (10.9%) on the power play since Barzal appeared to suffer a knee injury on Feb. 18. The Islanders were 6-for-18 (33.3%) in the first six games after Bo Horvat was acquired from the Canucks with Barzal healthy.
Barzal finally resumed skating this weekend, according to president/general manager Lou Lamoriello.
Barzal’s absence has led to monumental struggles in trying to gain the offensive zone. Without him, the Islanders are way too static on the man advantage. Lambert moved Horvat to the left half-wall because he was having trouble getting shots in the slot. But the Islanders’ best power-play chance against the Hurricanes was Horvat’s third-period chance from the slot.
After the Lightning, the Islanders finish against the Flyers, Capitals and Canadiens, none of whom are headed for the playoffs.
The Islanders might join them.