*The New York Islanders were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but here at the New York Sports Hub, we are turning back the clock to provide a recap of each month of the 2014-15 Islanders season.
This is where the wheels fell off.
Yes, the New York Islanders were in a great situation to make the playoffs entering the month of March, and yes at that point in the season, the only things a team should be thinking about are the small tweaks that will facilitate a deep run in the postseason. But by the end of March 2015, one would have thought the Islanders have traveled back in time to…well pretty much any year since 1993.
All the positive trends the Islanders had displayed throughout the first half of the season disappeared quicker than you can say “Spano sells seashells down by the seashore.” (Of course, until it’s found that the seashells aren’t actually his, and were purchased with toy money). And as such, the wins stopped coming as well. From March 3rd through the 29th, the Islanders would take home a mere 4 victories. That of course, is 4 wins in 13 games, easily the worst stretch of the season for the team from Long Island.
And while it’s trite to point to single games as “the moment” in which a team’s fortunes were decided, it was hard to ignore just what the March 10th battle against the New York Rangers seemed to do to the Islanders. Both squads left everything on the ice, in a taut, low-scoring affair at the Coliseum, the last such game that the Rangers and Islanders would ever play in the Old Barn. In addition, the game also marked the return of Kyle Okposo to the Islanders lineup after 22 game absence following his surgery for a detached retina.
The significance of the loss wasn’t necessarily apparently immediately, but it was hard not to draw correlations between the loss to the Blueshirts, and what occurred over the rest of the month for the Islanders. Granted, the team’s struggles came against high quality opponents; and losses at the hands of the Canadiens and Blackhawks certainly weren’t cause for concern. It was the manner in which the Islanders played that made the fandom start to sweat.
Even games against teams either facing the prospect of rebuilding or devastated by injury (New Jersey and Dallas respectively) were uphill battles. If not for a miraculous goal scored by Anders Lee in the final seconds against the Stars, the Islanders would have failed to pick up the so-called “loser point.” A road trip to Toronto was looking like an utter disaster before John Tavares reminded everyone why he’s a threat to win the Hart Trophy for the foreseeable future, and willed the Islanders to a victory.
Kyle Okposo’s return to the ice was an exciting development; theoretically. As he would later admit after the season was completed, the process of getting used to playing at game speed was a difficult one for the Islanders forward; and without the presence of a strong secondary scoring threat alongside John Tavares, the Islanders offense had to work that much harder. While their possession numbers remained roughly similar to the trends the Islanders had demonstrated during the first months of the season, their “puck luck” (indicated by a statistic called PDO) wasn’t doing them any favors.
As such, Islanders coach Jack Capuano began to attempt and shuffle his lineups in order to find some measure of consistency. Again, for most teams in the Islanders position, those questions should have been answered to provide some stability heading towards the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Instead, Capuano would throw out line-up after line-up, not giving the team much a chance to develop much chemistry from an offensive standpoint. And to be fair to the coaching staff of the Islanders, many of the young players on the team were playing in their first sustained playoff push, not to mention 82 games of physical and mental exhaustion. As such, the production of players like Brock Nelson, and Anders Lee and Ryan Strome began to slow down in March.
New York had previously seemed like a team that had a legitimate chance at making a deep run in the playoffs. What the month of March ended up costing the team was any sort of belief that such a future was probable. Of course, we still have one more month to cover, and to see if the Islanders were able to change their fortunes around before punching their ticket to the dance.