New York Islander fans enter Saturday’s game (12/28) against the New Jersey Devils with a cautious optimism. Coming off a 3-0 shutout at Detroit earlier in the week, the team had one of their best games in recent memory. Since their shootout win over the Sharks on December 10th, a game that ended a dreadful 10 game losing streak, the Islanders’ squad has more closely resembled a team fans have come accustomed to.
The Islanders 2-2-2 record over the last six games is a perfect blueprint for how they have fared over the last few years. The low point over this stretch was a team that was completely dominated by a far superior Coyotes team, while the last two victories over the Wings and rival Rangers were examples of just how good they can be over the better part of a game.
The other three losses during this stretch are what continue to be the thorn in the team’s side. In their OT loss to Montreal, shootout loss to Tampa, and their most recent breakdown loss to the Western powerhouse Ducks, the team has shown an inability to close out games. Despite a solid effort against Montreal, which was only squandered after a defensive breakdown in OT, the team had multiple opportunities to win a game against a beatable team that was clearly not their best that night. The losses against the Lightning & Ducks both came down to 2 blown third period leads, a sight that has become very frequent for fans over the last few seasons.
So where does this leave the team coming off Christmas break? Should fans be encouraged by two solid wins over the last three games, or has the team simply risen above pathetic to the average mediocrity we’ve become used to over the last 3 seasons? It’s tough to say, but watching the team over this stretch it is clear that the overall effort has been much better. During their steady decent into the basement over November and early December, the Isles seemed defeated right from the opening puck drop. Losses were a given, and it was apparent throughout the bench & postgame interviews. Although still inconsistent, there seems to be more hope now heading into Saturday’s Devil game.
The main reason for the recent hope has been the return of Islanders’ starting goalie Evgeni Nabokov. After missing over a month of action due to injury, Nabokov has returned to steady the young team. His numbers have improved to where they were last season when the Isles made a run at the playoffs, but more importantly, his veteran influence with the team has become very apparent since his return. The D has had less breakdowns in their own zone, and communication on and off the ice seems to have picked up. For as much as his abilities have taken a shot this year, Evgeni Nabokov’s importance to this team can not be questioned.
-Since scoring against the Rangers on 12/20, his first goals since opening night, Michael Grabner has totaled 4 points in his last 4 games (3G, 1A). His physical play has also picked up since the Isles’ OT loss to Montreal. He has been much more involved with and without the puck
-Defenseman Lubomir Visnovksy has yet to be cleared by doctors to do any on or off ice activity.