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The fight for the final NHL playoff spot will come down to the last weekend 

Heading into the final weekend of the NHL season, fifteen out of the sixteen playoff teams have been determined. The last spot remaining is in the Eastern Conference and has come down to the Maple Leafs, Islanders, and Lightning. 

With a shootout win over Boston on Thursday night, the Ottawa Senators locked up their playoff hopes. On that same night, both the Islanders and Lightning won in regulation while the Maple Leafs lost in regulation. The young Toronto team now finds themselves in a precarious situation, however they do control their own destiny. 

All three teams currently sit with 80 games played. Toronto has 93 points, whereas Tampa Bay and New York each have 90. In terms of ROW (regulation plus overtime wins), the denoted first tie breaker in the NHL, Toronto has 38, the Islanders have 37, and Tampa Bay has 36. 

For scheduling, Toronto has definitely been dealt the worst hand on the surface. They play Columbus and Pittsburgh over the final three days of the season. However, both of those teams have already punched their ticket to the playoffs and already have their seeding (second and third place in the Metropolitan Division respectively) locked down. The Penguins and Blue Jackets technically have nothing to play for heading into the final weekend, so it is possible that they will rest their star players and starting goalies. But, the argument could be made that the Penguins and Blue Jackets want to win in order to pass the Blackhawks in points, in the case that one of those teams meets up with Chicago in the Stanley Cup Final. 

The Islanders and Lightning each play a team in the playoffs and a team outside of the playoffs in their final two games. For the Islanders it is going to be New Jersey and Ottawa, and for Tampa Bay it is going to be Montreal and Buffalo. 

In order for Toronto to fall out of a playoff position, they have to lose their final two games in regulation and either the Islanders or Tampa Bay need to win their final two games. If Toronto loses one game in overtime or a shootout and loses the other in regulation, only the Islanders can overtake them if they win both of their games in regulation. Two overtime or shootout losses by Toronto would put them into the playoffs. 

There are still a lot of moving parts and a lot can change over the course of the next 72 hours. Tampa Bay plays tomorrow, Friday night, in Montreal. A loss of any kind and they will be eliminated from playoff contention. 

Although there is not as much as usual, the end of the NHL season will have some drama to keep an eye on. Toronto has their fate in their own hands, but New York and Tampa Bay remain knocking at the door. 

Keep up with our Twitter for updates on the playoff race. 

-Kevin, @TheNHLFiles 

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Four potential forwards the New York Islanders could trade for

It’s no secret that the New York Islanders desperately need help this season.

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Andrew Ladd needs to provide John Tavares with consistency 

The last word you can use to describe John Tavares’ career with the Islanders is consistency. Whether it’s playoff appearances, linemates, or goalies, John Tavares has not had a steady routine in any of his seven years in the NHL. But, the acquisition of Andrew Ladd is expected to provide the star center with that luxury.  Read the rest of this entry

The Islanders cannot afford to lose Frans Nielsen

The Islanders may be losing Kyle Okposo, but it is imperative that they do not go the same route with Frans Nielsen. As the 2015-2016 season began, it seemed likely that the 32 year old center would re-sign with the team, but now, only 13 days until free agency, that is all but certain.  Read the rest of this entry

7 players the Islanders could target this offseason 

The 2016 offseason is the most important offseason in general manager Garth Snow’s career. On top of trying to re-sign Kyle Okposo, Matt Martin, and Frans Nielsen, he needs to find a top line forward for John Tavares, or at the very least someone to bolster their forward group. Here are some options he could look at.  Read the rest of this entry

18 thoughts about the Islanders at the All-Star break

The Islanders reached the all star break of the NHL season from their perspective last night and there is a lot to talk about. They currently sit third in the Metropolitan Division behind the Rangers and Capitals, although they can overtake the Rangers with their two games in hand. 
These are some of the things I thought of from the “first half” of the year. 

1. This run after the break will separate the Islanders into one of two categories: men or boys. They didn’t have as good of a first half as last year, so a repeat of the awful second half last year cannot happen. They don’t have too much breathing room regarding playoffs, either. 

2. John Tavares finally seems to be getting back to his old self again, which is good. He needs to be on the top of his game always, it’s just what is required from your superstars. Sure there are anomaly games, but Tavares hit a huge rough patch in December/January and is just now breaking out of it. You have to wonder if he is or was hiding an injury, if the mystery illness was still affecting him, or he just lost some motivation for a while. The last one is the least likely, but it’s still something to look into. 

3. Speaking of Tavares, there’s right to be worried about him for the all star game. The guy could really use some rest and the 3 on 3 tournament for twenty minutes definitely won’t help that. He seems to get tired really easily as of late. 

4. In terms of the all star game, Frans Nielsen should be there. He’s been the Islanders’ MVP all season long. He’s been his usual good defensive self, and to top that he’s having a career year offensively. Nielsen is such a huge part to the club which is why he’ll likely get contract priority over Kyle Okposo in the summer. 

5. The Islanders need to make a splash at the trade deadline, but not necessarily a big one. They don’t need to sacrifice a first round pick or a top prospect for Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, or anyone of that nature, but they do need to add someone. Some players I like for depth are Kris Versteeg or David Jones. 

6. The team needs Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolay Kulemin to be better. Kulemin has his penalty kill duties which he does well. Still, some more offense from the both of them would be appreciated. 

7. I don’t think there’s reason to worry about Anders Lee. He seems to have shifted his game when playing 5v5 to an along the boards type style rather than in front of the net like he played when with John Tavares. He doesn’t get as many points from that standpoint, but he opens up a lot of room for his linemates. He does however get in front of the net on the powerplay, which the team needs. He’ll get back on track in the points department soon (even though he’s not going to be that far off from his total last year). 

8. Speaking of not worrying: how about Brock Nelson? He’s channeled his inner sniper and has started shooting the puck more and has found himself on Tavares’ line again. Having someone that can shoot from almost anywhere on the ice would be a huge plus for the top line. He’s done just that and leads the team in goals now with 19. 

9. Thomas Greiss has been a nice surprise. I knew he was going to be a good backup, but he has really taken the reigns and run with it. There’s no complaining or sense of doubt when he gets the start. He held the fort while Halak was out despite two rough games to Pittsburgh and Dallas, but I think he was overworked at that point. 

10. Regarding Kyle Okposo and the upcoming trade deadline, you have to keep him. Having him for the playoff run then risking losing him is something I’d be willing to do. 

11. Calvin de Haan has been great so far this year. After a stellar rookie season, he looked like he fell off a cliff for most of 2014-2015. His game has improved tremendously and he has become one of the most reliable Isles defensemen in the back end. 

12. Another young defenseman, Adam Pelech, also looked good this year. Unfortunately after just seven games he was ruled out indefinitely with an injury and it looks season ending. He looked fine during the end of the Rangers game so hopefully it is not something serious and not non-hockey related. Best of luck to Pelech in his recovery and to that it is nothing worse than it seems. 

13. Nick Leddy started off slow offensively this year but he has picked it up as of late, but it was never in doubt. Leddy is an extremely skilled skater and can play in almost any situation. He and Travis Hamonic made up the top defense pair for the team until Hamonic and Boychuk got injured and it worked well. I wouldn’t be surprised if it went back to that after the break when Boychuk returns. 

14. Not related to the season, but I really like Parker Wotherspoon as a prospect. Fourth rounder in 2015, solid two way defender. 42 points in 46 WHL games this year. Watch out for him in the future — trade bait or development wise. 

15. I like the way the Isles are treating the penalty kill this year. They’re attacking the players and not waiting for the players to converge onto them. So far it’s working and the Isles are at 87.2 percent (2nd in the league). 

16. As for the powerplay, they’re middle of the road at 17.5 percent (18th in the league). The current first unit is Tavares, Nielsen, Lee, Okposo, and Leddy, but personally I’d try out Nelson in place of Okposo. Okposo is a good player but hasn’t been nearly as effective as he should be on the first line powerplay. 

17. Marek Zidlicky hasn’t been nearly as impressive as I thought he would be. He is just as advertised: an offensive defenseman. He has a good shot but doesn’t use it enough. He knows how to escape coverage in the offensive zone. He also seems to find himself making unnecessary plays often. The thing that bugs me the most about Zidlicky is how slow he is getting to the puck. He seems to just watch it and drift toward it until he is out of position and gets beaten by the attacker. 

18. The Islanders need to be better in the first period. They far too often come out flat-footed and are run into the ground in the first twenty minutes. They’re a fantastic third period team, but it’s tough having to battle from behind all the time. Whether you put that on the players or coaches is up to you. 

That’s about all I can think of for now. The second half of the season will be a sprint for the Islanders and they need to be ready to take the bull by the horns. That goes for management and players. The last thing in the world this team needs is a subpar second half and a playoff miss. 

-Kevin, @TheNHLFiles

In order to succeed, the Islanders need more contributions from their “kids” 

We’re reaching the dog days of the NHL season. December and January mark the intermediate period between the frenzy at the start of the season and the even larger frenzy of the trade deadline. The Islanders have been doing decent this year and have nothing spectacular nor disastrous to report. 

The Islanders have been getting contributions from all four lines this year just as they had gotten last year (albeit Nelson-Tavares-Okposo is on a cool streak right now). The team didn’t make any major moves in the offseason unlike their counterparts in Washington and Pittsburgh. Garth Snow and the team have been banking on the internal development of their players, and they need three of these players in particular — Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson and Anders Lee — to kick it into the next gear. 

Ryan Strome has been fantastic since being re-called from his three week stint in the minors. He, Mikhail Grabovski, and Nikolay Kulemin have been the Isles best line over the recent stretch. Even after getting off to a cool start, Strome is still on pace for just over half a point per game, but a hot streak can easily bump that up. Whether or not Strome sees time on John Tavares’ wing in the future remains unseen, but as of right now due to his line’s play it seems unlikely. The Isles need Strome to keep up and not get complacent again since they heavily rely on a four-line game. Having a lethal asset in the middle-six would be a huge help to the depth of the forward group. 

Brock Nelson is a streaky player. He had a goal in four straight games in November and had six points in that stretch. Now, he’s been ice cold with one goal in his last nine playing alongside John Tavares and Kyle Okposo. Nelson’s nine goals on the season are good for third on the team, but Jack Capuano and the coaching staff still need more out of him since the other four lines are doing well. Getting the first line back to its groove will only happen if all three players are working together, and Nelson is one of those guys. Playing with John Tavares could and should make it a quick turnaround for him and help turn him into a more consistent player. 

Anders Lee has been an interesting case this year. He has looked good playing alongside the boards and behind the net and is using his size to his advantage. However, he only has four goals on the season. This is after he potted 25 last year. Lee is on pace for only 11 goals this year which is not nearly good enough. Lee, like Strome and Nelson, also saw time with John Tavares last year which could explain his high goal totals in his first full year. Regardless, more is expected from Lee, especially playing with a hot hand in Frans Nielsen. On the bright side, Lee already has 10 assists this season compared to his 16 last season which is good. 

I foresee in the near future a switch up of Anders Lee and Brock Nelson in the lineup. This would give Tavares and Okposo someone out front to screen the goalie and feed the puck to, as well as not disrupt the Grabovski line or the Cizikas line by putting Nelson with Nielsen and Bailey. Or, at least that’s what I would do. 

At the end of the day, the Islanders have faith in their youth, and will succeed or fail by them. Strome, Nelson, and Lee all need to pick up their game in the last half or so of the season and help propel the team to their first playoff win since 1993. 

-Kevin, @TheNHLFiles

Quine and Pelech have slowly risen to top of Isles prospect system

It’s no secret that the Islanders have a very good prospect system, mainly due to the rebuild they went through between the years of 2007 and 2014. The likes of Michael Dal Colle, Matthew Barzal, Josh Ho-Sang, and Ryan Pulock are the premiere names, but over the years the Islanders have accumulated some solid players outside of the first round. Two of those players are Adam Pelech and Alan Quine. 

Pelech, a third round pick from 2012, made his NHL debut for the Islanders this past Friday night against Anaheim. He was a +1 and showed signs of being a solid bottom-four defenseman. His awareness and calmness are his best traits, and he did not look out of place on the ice like many rookie defensemen would in their first game. 

Pelech earned his call-up, due to his solid play in Bridgeport this year (2-2-4 in 14 games). Both head coach Brent Thompson and other analysts around the league renowned him as a solid, stay at home defensemen with little obvious flaws to his game. Pelech is similar to a player like Griffin Reinhart, who the Islanders traded this summer, despite his physical game not being as good. 

Pelech will likely be sent back down when Thomas Hickey comes back from injury, but if he keeps playing the way he’s playing he’ll be in good position for a roster spot soon. He will still have to battle his way through Hickey, Calvin de Haan, Ryan Pulock, and Scott Mayfield for a roster spot next season. 

Alan Quine, much like Pelech, has impressed in Bridgeport this year. He currently has 16 points in 16 games and is second on the team only behind Joe Whitney. Quine also lead the team with 61 points in 75 games last year (excluding Dustin Jeffery who arrived in March). Originally a draft pick of Detroit in 2011 (third round), the Islanders snagged him in the sixth round two years later. Quine still is down in the pipeline behind Ryan Strome, Taylor Beck, and likely Joe Whitney to be called up, but he’s on a good track to possibly make the team in a couple of years. 

The Islanders have a lot of players to be excited for in the upcoming years, regardless if the players are “big name” prospects are not. Both Quine and Pelech are perfect examples of these types of players, and they, the Islanders management, and the fans have good reason to be excited for them to come up and play in the future. 

-Kevin, @TheNHLFiles

State of the Islanders: What’s Happened and What’s Going On

In terms of the first year coming out of the rebuild, this year was a very successful one for the Islanders, but it doesn’t mean changes aren’t needed. To keep moving forward and surpassing the success of this season, Garth Snow and company have to take a long, hard look at the roster and the management for next season and what they are going to do with it. 

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Islanders Need to Control Their Emotions in Game 5

It’s no secret that the Islanders are irate over Tom Wilson’s hit on Lubomir Visnovsky in Game 4 of their series with Washington, and that hit will help dictate the pace of how Game 5 goes tonight. Whether the hit was clean or not is a matter of opinion, but either way, Visnovsky has a concussion and his season, and more importantly career, is in jeopardy. 

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Mistakes, Powerplay the Reason for the Islanders’ Recent Dry Spell

Following a 3-1 loss to Montreal on Saturday night, their second loss in as many nights, the Islanders fell to 4-4-2 in their last ten games. The team has lost four straight at home, and has hit one of their very few rough patches of the year, with only themselves to blame.

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Islanders Defeat Rangers 3-0 in Biggest Win of the Season

It’s been almost 20 years since the Islanders and Rangers played this meaningful of a game, and it’s only January. The teams embarked on their second meeting of the year, after the Islanders won the first one in October by the score of 6-3. Halak made 40 saves that day, in his first big performance as an Islander. Now, the team has bonded and matured, and has claimed the first spot in the Metropolitan Divison, and showed exactly why they are in that place.
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