The Islanders are not blind to the obvious.
They are not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, but their season will end on April 7.
“I think the realistic part of it is, obviously, the odds are stacked against us,” said captain John Tavares, perhaps playing his last three weeks with the franchise that picked him first overall in 2009. “I think you always play no matter what, you never know what can happen. But trying to think about winning 10, 11 games in a row is kind of tough to grasp in just a single thought. Mostly, we’ve just got to prepare for tomorrow. We just want to get back in the win column.”
The Isles, swept in a home-and-home series by the Capitals, are in last place in the Metropolitan Division and in a 1-6-4 slide. With 11 games left, they are 12 points behind the Devils in the battle for the Eastern Conference’s second wild card.
When the Islanders face the Hurricanes at Barclays Center at 5 p.m. Sunday, Tavares will slide to left wing on the top line, with rookie Mathew Barzal moving to the middle and Jordan Eberle taking Josh Bailey’s spot on right wing, a continuation of a switch coach Doug Weight made in the second period of Friday night’s 6-3 loss at Washington.
Tavares and Barzal have played together for a few shifts and Weight wants to see what his two best offensive players can do together for a full game.
“It doesn’t mean he’s going to play wing and it doesn’t mean he’s not a centerman,” Weight said of Tavares. “It’s an experiment. Moving forward, it gives them some experience together. I’m excited to see it.”
Weight added if Tavares gets back into defensive position first, Barzal will have to adjust to defending the off wing in the Islanders’ zone.
“It’s not my natural position, but I’ve played it before and I just try to have a lot of versatility with my game to begin with,” Tavares added. “Mentally, I’ll prepare myself a little bit on what to expect and there are certain things that come with playing it.”
It may be an experiment for now, but with Tavares playing out a six-year, $33-million deal, Barzal might not have a chance to be his linemate next season.
The Islanders are headed toward their second straight season out of the playoffs and Tavares’ future plans are hovering over the in-flux franchise. For now, though, he is focused on the conclusion of this season.
“I think just enjoying to play and being a competitor, being an athlete,” Tavares said of the motivation over the final 11 games. “Having a lot of pride. Your career only lasts so long. You want to enjoy every second of it, every challenge no matter how tough it’s going.”
“Obviously, it stinks. Everyone knows the situation we’re in,” said Barzal, who is likely to win the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie. “But we’re all professionals in here and we’re getting paid, so we’ve got to go out and put on our work boots no matter what the situation is.”
Notes & quotes: Center Brock Nelson is being monitored for a stiff neck after a full- speed collision with associate coach Greg Cronin during Saturday’s practice . . . Weight said he was “leaning” toward starting goalie Jaroslav Halak, who made 25 saves on Friday and entered Thursday’s 7-3 loss to the Capitals after Christopher Gibson allowed five goals on 12 shots . . . Defenseman Sebastian Aho will return to the lineup after being a healthy scratch the past six games as Brandon Davidson is “banged up,” Weight said . . . Right wing Cal Clutterbuck was able to practice Saturday and is expected to play Sunday after sitting out Friday’s third period. Clutterbuck said he is a chronic sufferer of migraine-like symptoms, which occur a couple of times per season . . . Weight anticipates forward Alan Quine (lower body), who has missed eight games, returning to practice this week.