Can the Isles Solve Home Ice Troubles This Week Against Toronto, Ottawa?
The Islanders have had troubles on home ice, 2-8 on the year, and are in the midst of a seven game homestand, having lost the first two to Carolina and Boston in regulation. Up next are Toronto and Ottawa, two teams that will be coming to the Island on the second half of back-to-back games and dealing with serious injury issues. We’ve been making a case on this blog for change, in particular of the coaching variety, or at this point, of really any sort. If the Islanders can’t win against those two teams and fall to 2-10 at home and 0-4 on the homestand, how can the facts be ignored that this team, as constructed, is not successful and needs serious adjustments?
To give you an idea of what’s ahead, the Toronto Maple Leafs will come to town on Thursday after playing at home against Montreal on Wednesday night. The Leafs have some injuries to important players, as they’ve been playing without Joffrey Lupul and Matt Frattin. More importantly, they’re missing their staring goaltender in James Reimer. Instead of Reimer, Ben Scrivens has been getting the work and he’s been good at times — two shutouts — and bad at other times. Scrivens surrendered five goals and was yanked in the third the last time the Islanders and Maple Leafs met, a 7-4 Islanders win in January. With games on back-to-back nights, there’s a distinct possibility that the Islanders won’t even see Scrivens but instead could go up against the Leafs’ third string, Jussi Rynnas, who has all of seven goals against in 109 NHL minutes on his stat sheet.
The Leafs are 12-8, so they haven’t been bad, but should the Islanders really have trouble putting up a solid effort or, you know, a win on home ice against this banged up, backup goaltended, second night of a back-to-back, Leafs team? The odds are seriously in the Islanders favor.
And on Sunday, the Islanders will have a rematch against the Ottawa Senators and Craig Anderson. After that game, the narrative went that Anderson was supposedly the culprit that singlehandedly beat the Islanders, although I personally don’t subscribe to that theory at all. Anderson may once again be the difference on Sunday.
But wait not so fast, Anderson is currently day-to-day with a sprained ankle and hasn’t played since February 21st. He may not even play this Sunday on the Island. It’s another devastating injury to a Senators team already missing two All-Stars in Jason Spezza and Erik Karlsson, as well as non All-Stars like Milan Michalek and Guillaume Latendresse. To their credit, the Sens have amazingly won five in a row including last week’s victory over the Islanders.
The Senators, missing their three best players, will have to go on the road to the Coliseum for a 3pm game Sunday after playing in Philly at noon on Saturday. Should the Islanders, after having two nights off, really have trouble putting up a solid effort or a win on home ice against the Senators?
The truth is the Islanders should come away with four points in their final two games this week. Unlike the Senators and Leafs, the Islanders will be rested and mostly un-injured.
In years past, the Islanders could claim that they had terrible rashes of injuries, and deservedly so. Last February, the Islanders were third in the league in man games lost to injury. In March 2011, they were first in the league by a wide margin.
With only Brian Strait and Matt Carkner hurt — really, Jesse Joensuu isn’t a factor here — the Islanders have their entire forward and goaltending corps intact. They’re missing two defenders, but neither one is a top four defender on this team (if you want to make the argument Brian Strait is, remember A) small sample size and B) he wasn’t even on the roster to start the year).
This is the healthiest the Islanders have been in more than two years. They’re in the middle of a seven game homestand, having dropped the first two. There are more than a half dozen other teams in the East struggling and struggling badly enough to leave the 8-11-1 Islanders only two points removed from the eighth playoff seed. They’ve got a gift wrapped chance for two wins this week on home ice. If they blow that chance, especially if it is done in spectacular fashion, there will be little reason to doubt that this team is incapable of winning games as currently constructed.