The New York Islanders had a nice little cushion atop the Metropolitan division at the All-Star break but have since come back down to earth. After returning from the break with a dominating 4-1 win over the New York Rangers, the Islanders went on a three-game skid. The Islanders broke their losing streak Thursday night with what I thought was an ugly 3-2 shootout win over the Philadelphia Flyers.
As it currently stands, the Islanders have lost possession of first place in the Metropolitan and are currently trailing the Penguins by one point (68-67). The Islanders also find themselves only one point ahead of the Washington Capitals and three points ahead of the New York Rangersin the standings. So should they still be considered the favorites to win the division?
Since right winger Kyle Okposo has been sidelined with an eye injury, the Islanders have not been the same team. They are no longer the Islanders that can score five or six goals on any given night. They are now a team that has to work harder than it has all season long to create scoring opportunities.
Yes, they still have a tremendous amount of depth which will get them through to the playoffs. But I cannot confidently say it will be enough for them to finish the regular season atop the Metropolitan division. The good news however, is that as we’ve seen countless times before, it doesn’t matter who wins the division as long as you make it into the playoffs. Both the Rangers and Los Angeles Kings met in the Stanley Cup finals last year as sixth seeds. Two years before that, the Kings won their first cup as an eighth seed, just barely making the playoffs. So Islander fans really shouldn’t put too much stock into winning the division.
Sure, it would be nice to see the Islanders finish in first place for something other than the draft lottery for the first time in my life, but let’s face it, if the Islanders don’t win the division, they would probably match up with the Rangers in the first round of the playoffs. I know playoff hockey is a completely different animal from regular season hockey, but from what we’ve seen in their three matchups this season, you have to like your chances as an Islander fan.
Right now I would say the Islanders are slight underdogs to the Penguins to win the Metropolitan division. I say this only because when you take Okposo out of the equation, the Pens have a much more explosive offense. Regardless of what happens the rest of the regular season, as long as the Islanders don’t experience a colossal meltdown (which believe me, there were points during last night’s win over the Flyers where that looked entirely possible), they will be getting Okposo back on the ice just in time for the start of the playoffs.