February was supposed to be do-or-die time for the New York Islanders. At the beginning of the month, they were in the 13th position in the Eastern Conference, 10 points behind the eighth-seeded New Jersey Devils for the final playoff berth. Now, three weeks into a stretch that promised to define them as postseason contenders or also-rans, the Islanders have made up very little ground, currently sitting in 12th place, eight points out of a playoff spot.
Stuck in a kind of hockey purgatory, the fans on Long Island have gotten glimpses of a team poised to make a run at the playoffs, only to see a subpar team take the ice the next game. Since the beginning of the month, the Isles have alternated wins and losses, often suffering embarrassing defeats (such as the 5-1 beating they took from the St. Louis Blues last week) only to recover with gutsy wins, like the victory on Saturday over the Carolina Hurricanes. Unfortunately, a potential momentum builder like the win over Carolina was dashed on Monday with a 6-0 shellacking at the hands of the Ottawa Senators. New York’s inability to string together even two straight wins is a big reason they’re running out of time to make a realistic push for the postseason.
“This was very disappointing. We came with no physicality and stood around and watched their best players,” Islanders head coach Jack Capuano said after the loss to the Senators. “You have to battle and compete and we didn’t.”
The lack of “battling” and desire seems to be a constant theme on Long Island this season, which has seen the Isles squander multiple opportunities to climb the Eastern Conference ranks. Perhaps team captain Mark Streit summed the situation up best after the loss to Ottawa:
“There wasn’t any intensity in our game,” he said. “We’ve had a couple of bad starts, but we topped it today. We keep doing this to ourselves.”
If the Islanders can’t figure out how to become more consistent, and play quality hockey every night, there won’t be much left to play for in March.