THE MORNING SKATE — Looking Down, And Up, In the Standings

Kevin Schultz

Tomorrow night the Islanders take on the Panthers at the Coliseum in the team’s final home game. Following that, they’ll have to play five in a row on the road to close out the season. It’s too bad for fans that, now that the team is finally playing great hockey, they won’t be able to see it again until (and if) the team makes the playoffs. But maybe it’s for the best, the Islanders have an impressive 12-5-2 road record.

Either way, the Islanders will have to win on the road to earn more home games past Tuesday.

While five of the last six will be on the road, only one will be against a team currently in playoff position (Thursday in Toronto). The other opponents — Florida, Winnipeg, Carolina, Philadelphia and Buffalo — are all basically playing out the stretch run save for Winnipeg.

The Jets are the Islanders main concern right now when it comes to playoff qualification and probably will be the rest of the way (tenth place Buffalo is four back and has played more games, with a playoff hope and prayer at best). Both the Islanders and Jets have two games to play before they meet Saturday in Manitoba at the MTS Centre. If things break just right — Islanders earn two more points than the Jets prior to Saturday’s game — the Islanders could clinch on Saturday with a regulation win. They’re three up on the Jets now, and if they push that to seven with only three games left, they’re in. (Of course we’re assuming no other team makes a push, but that seems very unlikely).

For the Jets, they’ve been downright mediocre wherever they’ve played. They’ll play four of their final six at home a place where, despite a huge home-crowd advantage, they’re only 11-9 on the year. They’re no better on the road, at 10-10-2. And yes, they’ve won three in a row overall, but they’re only 5-5 in their last ten. Also, those three wins in a row came against three non-playoff teams; Buffalo, Philadelphia and Florida.

But enough about the Jets, because you could be looking at this playoff glass half full. The Islanders are in seventh, have one regulation loss in their last eleven (!), and are one point behind sixth place Ottawa and three back of fifth place Toronto. Both of those teams are playing fairly well, with at least five wins in their last ten and have a game in hand on the Isles, but it’s not out of the question that they could catch one. Maybe Toronto is well enough ahead in the everyone-gets-a-point NHL, but a one point, one game gap with Ottawa is certainly not insurmountable.

Whether you choose to look up or down in the standings at this point is a personal decision. But the Islanders are in a good position either way. They likely only need to be 3-3-1 or 4-3 to get in the playoffs — Saturday’s game in Winnipeg being an enormous factor — and they’re playing great hockey despite losing Saturday’s Battle of New York

DENIS POTVIN ON THE CURRENT TEAM
NHL.com caught up with Islander legend Denis Potvin, who was excited about the current team. Potvin is the color commentator on Senators broadcasts currently.

“Can I be honest?” Potvin said. “I was in denial for, like, 25 years and didn’t want to look at [their situation] because it was so bad. Now I find myself getting very excited for them and I’ve really enjoyed following the team again.”

“I know what it’s like to break through,” Potvin told NHL.com. “They’re like the 1975 Islanders with the way they’re starting to get noticed. The Rangers aren’t the only team being talked about in the New York area this year.”

The ’75 Islanders were the first team in franchise history to make the playoffs. They would beat the Rangers in the first round, the Penguins in the second round after overcoming an 0-3 deficit before almost doing the same, but losing in the end, to the Flyers in the third round.

Added Potvin about Jack Capuano:

“When people talk about the Islanders, they are always asking me, ‘Who is this guy Jack Capuano, and is he a good coach?’” Potvin said. “Jack has shown a lot of patience and it’s paid off for this team. For many parts of last season and earlier this year, it always came back to the fact that they seemed to lack maturity, lack the ability to hold onto leads. They didn’t play as well in the third as they did in the earlier periods.

“But Jack has them believing”

Ain’t that the truth. All of a sudden it’s been night and day late in games for the Islanders.