The New York Islanders haven’t faced much adversity this season. They got out to an early lead in the division and have been in either first or second place pretty much since the get go. Recently though, the Islanders have struggled and they are falling behind their in-state rival the New York Rangers for the top spot in the Metropolitan. The thing that Islanders fans are a little concerned about is the fact that the team is struggling despite the return of one of their better players form injury.
Many thought the team would get a boost from the return of Kyle Okposo, who has been out since the All-Star break. He had been dealing with eye problems that required surgery to fix a detached retina. Before he went down with the injury, Okposo was one of the top goal scorers on the team and one of the league leaders in assists.
There were a lot of questions about how the Islanders were going to deal with the loss of their second-best offensive player and after a brief adjustment period, it looked like the team was going to continue on their winning ways without missing a beat. Since his return, Okposo hasn’t scored a point and the offense has only mustered one goal in each game.
If anything it is possible that the return of Okposo has hurt more because it has broken up one of the better lines over the past couple of weeks. Okposo recently reclaimed his spot on the top line playing with John Tavares and Josh Bailey. Before his return, Anders Lee was playing with the top line at right wing and now he has been moved down to the left wing of the third line.
One of the most productive youngsters on the team in Ryan Strome was recently a healthy scratch for the first time, which wouldn’t have happened if Okposo wasn’t back. Strome is the third leading scorer on the team and has provided the Islanders with a burst of speed and athleticism.
What has been disconcerting for the Islanders and their fans is their inability to win close games. For the majority of the season, the Isles have been one of the better teams when it came to overtime games. Coming into the month of March, they had only lost two games in overtime and both of those were in shootouts. In the seven games this month though, the number of overtime losses for the Islanders have doubled. The Islanders lost their first game in the overtime period this month, but they have been losing some close games.
The Islanders have lost six of their last eight games. They have played some good teams over this stretch, but when you have been one of the better teams throughout the season, this is the wrong time to go into a cold spell. What has been most disturbing over this stretch is it looked like the Islanders were having their hands full with even some of the worst teams in the league. They lost to the Carolina Hurricanes at the end of February, lost to Dallas in overtime and Florida in a shootout. Even in their win against the Toronto Maple Leafs, it took them into overtime and had to come back from two goals down in the third period.
The Islanders don’t have the easiest of schedules over the next two weeks. Five of their next six games are against teams that are in the playoff picture. On Tuesday they will face the Chicago Blackhawks, then after a game at New Jersey, they have Minnesota, Los Angeles, Anaheim and Detroit. New York has struggled recently against teams that would be in the playoffs if they started today. If they can get to April without dropping again in the standings, the Islanders will be in good shape as they have a very easy conclusion to the season.
Even though they have struggled over the past couple of weeks, the New York Islanders are still one of the best teams in the league. They have the ability to score goals and they can play solid defense when they need to do so. New York is missing some players due to injury in defenseman Nick Leddy and forward Mikhail Grabovski, but they have overcome bigger injuries in the past already. The fact is that they need to be playing better hockey as they are falling fast in their division. Otherwise they certainly won’t win the conference and probably won’t get too far in the playoffs.