An Elite Gathering – What’s Next for the Islanders?

By Andrew Becker

This week at the NHL’s all-star festivities in San Jose, Matt Barzal got to join an elite group of prospects in his sophomore season. To the pleasure of Isles fans, Barzal, the current star and future of the Islanders’ organization, was highlighted on the Metropolitan division’s top line, playing with the likes of Sidney Crosby and Chris Letang. A player like Barzal can really thrive under a three-on-three structure, with lots of time and space to move up the ice. He did exactly that Saturday evening, recording two goals and four assists in the Metro Division’s two games, including the championship victory over the Central Division.

Although the All-Star Game usually has a more lighthearted nature, Barzal’s performance was poetic justice for a fanbase in need of a new “all-star” after the departure of ex-captain John Tavares this offseason. Seeing his Atlantic division team get eliminated in the first round only for Barzal to secure the victory that night was icing on the cake for Isles fans.

The All-Star break, which is considered a breath of fresh air for most teams in the league, couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Islanders. At a time when teams take the opportunity to rest and heal before they falter, the Islanders were in the midst of a point streak worthy of considerable recognition from opposing teams.

With points in each of their last six games and a 15-3-1 record over their last 19, the hot streak would now take a back seat. The team is in the midst of a nine-day resting period, which combines the league-wide All-Star break and the league-mandated team bye week (every team must have one during the course if the season). That’s a lot of time to cool off, and the Islanders, with crucial games down the stretch, will have to keep the fire ignited as they get back into action Friday night against the league’s best Tampa Bay Lightning (76 points) at the Coliseum. In their prior meeting just over two weeks ago in Brooklyn, the Isles dumbfounded the Lightning, scoring three goals in the game’s first five minutes of the game and earning a decisive 5-1 win.

It will now be an exciting duel between the two first-place teams in the East, which is a sentence that still comes as a shock to most fans due to its unexpectedness. The following day they play the slumping Los Angeles Kings, also at home in Nassau.

There is a lot of hockey to be played in such a short time period, and the Isles have plenty of games left to grind out if they still wish to contend for a top playoff spot by season’s end. They’re just hoping the success that comes with the fire can stick. Time will tell where the Islanders stand moving forward, especially as the trade deadline approaches.

As we look ahead to the trade deadline, the team, with new management guided by Lou Lamoriello, will not be afraid to make a move if it is the right one to bolster the roster for the long-term and not just the short-term. But one thing is for sure: the Islanders will be busy down the season’s home stretch.