The Islanders might be skating out to a whole new playoff-chase reality next Sunday when they “host” the Rangers in their Stadium Series matchup at MetLife Stadium. Given a week’s time, there’s a chance Saturday afternoon’s 5-2 loss to the Flames at UBS Arena could be lot more devastating than it seemed on Super Bowl Sunday.
That’s because the Islanders will be mostly idle this week in the lead-up to their first outdoor game in 10 years, only hosting the Kraken on Tuesday night.
So good weeks by their closest competitors in the Eastern Conference could push the Islanders to the back of the line in their playoff push.
“Any loss now for us, given how much time is left, the Metropolitan [Division] standings, how tight it is, we can’t really afford to lose more than one in a row,” Brock Nelson said after Saturday’s loss snapped the Islanders’ first two-game winning streak since they won four straight from Dec. 7-13.
The Islanders (22-18-12) are six points behind the third-place Flyers, who hold the last guaranteed playoff spot in the division. They are four points behind the Maple Leafs and Red Wings for the conference’s two wild-card spots.
The Islanders are only two points ahead of the Devils in the division and the Capitals also moved two points back with Sunday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Canucks. The Penguins, who have played three fewer games, are three points behind.
The Red Wings play three road games this week and the Maple Leafs play three times at home.
The Flyers also have three games, including their Stadium Series match against the Devils — who will play four times this week — on Saturday.
The Penguins also will play three times and the Capitals have two more games this week.
The Islanders dropped to 3-3-1 since coach Patrick Roy replaced the fired Lane Lambert on Jan. 20, and their penalty kill stands out as a key reason why more points have not been collected.
The Flames scored on their lone power-play opportunity and the Islanders have killed off only nine of 17 chances (52.9%) in the last six games. Overall, the Islanders’ penalty kill is last in the NHL at 71.3%.
“I like the structure we have, the pressure and the press,” Roy said. “The last game [Thursday’s 6-2 win over the visiting Lightning], it was off the breakout. On the second unit [against the Flames], it was off rebounds.
“I hope we can build and get some confidence. Right now, our confidence is not at its highest. We know [70%] won’t do it for us to be a playoff team.”
Roy also made an in-game line switch on Saturday that could carry over against the Kraken, swapping left wing Pierre Engvall onto Bo Horvat’s top line with Mathew Barzal for Anders Lee, who then skated with Nelson and Kyle Palmieri.
“I need to know and there’s things I’m going to try at times,” Roy said. “I thought having Engvall with Bo and Barzy added a little more speed to that line.”