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Gallof: Islanders Take Big Step, But Still Have Issues To Overcome

The New York Islanders celebrate a power-play goal by Mark Streit #2 (3rd from left) at 8:59 of the first period against the Florida Panthers. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The New York Islanders celebrate a power-play goal by Mark Streit #2 (3rd from left) at 8:59 of the first period against the Florida Panthers. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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By B.D. Gallof
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The Islanders got a big home win against the Panthers on Tuesday night, yet there are still concerns and issues to overcome.

I headed to the game with a source’s words echoing in my head. You’d think that with only six games left, each remaining would be the biggest and most important game. But no, not for this young, impressionable crew.

Per that source, they felt that Tuesday’s game against the lowly Panthers was the most important game of the Islanders’ season. This was something that the coaching staff was concerned about.

Why? Because the team was coming off an emotional loss. This team was very angry about the result of their tight game against the Rangers. Add the fact that this was their last home game in a season full of surprisingly mixed results at home.

And ultimately, they were playing against a team they should beat.

These elements are the recipe for disaster, if you think about it. In fact, these are the very elements that this team has had trouble with in the past. Might this be the place to measure the young rebuild of the Islanders? Would they overcome?

Yes, fan sentiment has risen like a balloon as the team has gotten better when it counts, but what would these last few games reap? Would it allow profound disappointment, allowing the perpetual naysayers to come back out of the woodwork?

Lets be honest here: This season — whether the team secures a playoff spot or falls short — has been a clear step forward, no matter how some cynics will attempt to slice and dice it. Too many indicators have gone off, and with more kids coming soon, it’s getting hot for competition and future roles.

I sat in the press box and there was a moment of silence for the tragedy in Boston. I tried not to think about the news of poison in the Capitol mail system. The real world has gone bonkers, and I’m sure I’m not alone in looking for on-ice competition to give some reprieve and shelter to the turbulence.

Maybe it is this that really strikes the chord to the sometimes precarious psyche of the  Islanders fan, who has convoluted politics and sat pining for that clear turnaround. So much has gone on around us and these are troubled days.

Perhaps sports, especially hockey, comes as an opportunity for deflation of the myriad of uncontrollable pressures and stressors.

So the team came out strong. They ate the first 8:30 minutes with chippy play until Matt Moulson tallied a goal. I cannot tell you how important the Moulson tally was. The top line must produce to ride onto the playoffs and beyond. Upon this all hinges.

The first period of this tilt was exactly what the coaching staff was looking for.

Urgency. Sharp play. Offensive pressure. Few lapses.

This is the recipe for success.

The problem, of course, is maintaining this kind of play. The second and third periods — despite the lopsided score –showed far more about where this team must improve. A 5-2 win at home versus a team that they should beat is a key win, but consistency is also needed from period to period. A better team that wasn’t reeling all season could have easily turned this game into anxious nail biting.

Jack Capuano said as much during the press conference

Personally, I was a bit concerned about John Tavares’ output. The team scored five goals, yet he was unable to generate a point and had a few giveaways.

In talking to those around the team, they cite his streakiness and the fact that he will always be the focus of any opposing team. However, they did agree on how key he is to the team achieving playoff success.

OK, so it wasn’t a stellar performance when we look beneath the veneer, but it was a HUGE win and a big step for the team. It’s been a long road, ladies and gentleman, but somewhere on Tuesday night the team took another step forward and got the much-needed win.

Things to Note:

Casey Cizikas is out with an upper body injury.

Josh Bailey, as the astute Christain Arnold pointed out to Capuano, also looked banged up. Caps admitted to it, and there will be  a wait-and-see approach.

I have cited all season the need for the Islanders 5-on-5 Goals For/Against ratio to increase. 5-on-5 play is key. The Isles have raised it from 27th in the NHL to 21st with a 0.93 mark. The more this holds or increases, the better the results will be.

One thing that has stayed strong all season is the Isles’ power play. It is at 6th in the NHL with a 21.6 percent mark.

However, the penalty kill has dropped below the middle of the pack to 17th in the NHL with an 81.4 percent mark.

Another place for improvement is face-offs. The Isles are at 49.1 percent, which is 22nd in the NHL.

Follow B.D. Gallof on Twitter @BDGallof.

How do you feel about where the Islanders are as they kick off their final road trip of the season? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…