Islanders

Carver: Islanders Hanging Around

(credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

(credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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By Mike Carver
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It has been a roller coaster ride for the Islanders since the All-Star break.

They have come up with big overtime wins over Ottawa and Los Angeles to help them chip away at their deficit in the Eastern conference playoff race.  They have had heartbreaking losses at home to Buffalo and Florida.  And just when you think it’s time to shut it down for the season and give up the playoff dreams, they win a game like last week in Philadelphia and Tuesday night in Winnipeg.

I know I was ready to close up shop for the season if they lost in Winnipeg, but once again they showed some heart and pulled out a victory. Before Toronto’s win last night in Edmonton, the Isles were six points out for the first time in two months (they do have two games in hand on the Maple Leafs entering tonight). It’s quite a feat for them considering how miserable they were during their annual swoon from mid October to late November.

What led the charge back into contention?

John Tavares

JT has had a breakout season for the Isles as we’ve talked about plenty this year here.  Leading the Isles to a 7-5-1 record in January helped earn JT the NHL’s first star of the month and give the team its first winning month of the season.  He was so hot in January that he eventually had to hit a slump, and he has here in February, but even without filling the score sheet, you can see his presence on the ice.

Evgeni Nabokov

A lot of the talk early in the season was who would take control of the revolving door of Islander goaltenders between Nabokov, Al Montoya, and Rick DiPietro.  Thankfully for the Islanders, Evgeni Nabokov has taken the ball and run with it since the calendar turned to 2012.  Nabby has been a rock with an 8-3 record in his last 11 starts with a 1.56 GAA and has kept the Isles in every game.  Nabokov has really done an outstanding job since camp.  He never complained about playing time early in the season and has now set himself up for a nice contract this offseason.  Will it be with the Islanders? Probably not.  The better question is will he be here after the trade deadline on February 27th.  The next week and a half will tell that story.

PA Parenteau

Raise your hand if you thought back in October that in the 2nd week of February PA Parenteau would be in the NHL’s top 20 scorers and would be top five in the NHL in assists.

If you raised your hand you are lying. What a season from PA.  Most thought once he left Tavares and Moulson on the first line his production would drop, but he has been just as good, if not better.  For a team so starved for production outside of its top line, Parenteau has given the 2nd line life.  He was the best player on the ice in Winnipeg Tuesday night where he scored the game winning goal.  Also a free agent at season’s end, PA is picking the right time to step up his game.

The Eastern Conference

Let’s face it, it’s not just the fact that the Islanders have played better since January 1st, it helps that the teams they are chasing have been bad.  The teams near them such as Buffalo, Montreal, and Tampa have been brutal and can’t get anything going.  The Islanders have now caught up to or passed these clubs.  The teams ahead of the Isles have been just as bad.  Ottawa had a long losing streak, Washington can never get going, and now Toronto has hit a slump.

The past few years it has taken between 88 and 93 points to grab the 8th seed in the east.  If these teams continue to slump, the Isles may be able to sneak in, but it would still take a huge run.  The schedule is brutal over the final six weeks and points will be at a premium.  A three-game skid at any time would cripple them.  It’s possible, but at this moment, still a little unrealistic.

They may not make it, but it is nice having games that matter in mid February for a change.