New York Islanders: Could They Play the Role of Spoiler Down the Stretch?

Christopher BeniniContributor IJanuary 6, 2012

UNIONDALE, NY - NOVEMBER 23: Matt Moulson #26 and John Tavares #91 of the New York Islanders skate in warmups prior to the game against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on November 23, 2011 in Uniondale, New York.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Are we already talking about the Islanders as a spoiler and no longer a contender before the All-Star break?

Yes, we are.

While the Islanders are far from completely out of it, they have the potential to play spoiler down the stretch.

The team was 5-5-2 in December after going 4-7-2 in November. They have improved each month since the start of the season, which is usually the trend with young teams. The Isles currently sit 10 points behind the eighth place team, New Jersey Devils, with two less games played.

While the Islanders could come back and contend for a playoff spot, they could just as easily fall short. One thing is for certain, though—the Islanders are not a team that opponents are looking forward to down the stretch.

A major reason that young teams improve down the stretch is that they gain experience. The Islanders came in as a very young team with players such as Matt Martin, Nino Niederreiter and Travis Hamonic seeing their first full seasons in the pros. As players such as these play more games, we may finally see some of their potential down the stretch.

Another reason is health. Sure, this works both ways. While players like Al Montoya, David Ullstrom and Rick DiPietro will eventually return from injury, time will tell whether this team can stay healthy down the stretch.

While there is the potential that the team can get healthier and have their full block of starters, there is also the possibility of injuries down the stretch. In that case, players such as Calvin Dehaan, Kevin Poulin and possibly even Ryan Strome could see action down the stretch. The experience could only help them, and the organization could see what those players need to work on to get them ready for future success.

Along with the young players, the Islanders have had plenty of star power this season. John Tavares and Matt Moulson have turned into borderline stars on the top line, and players such as Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey have improved in the past weeks. In addition, Evgeni Nabokov has played better in net and it shouldn't be too much longer until the Isles have their starter, Montoya, back.

With a young team that is improving every day, look for the Islanders to be a team that nobody wants to face down the stretch.