With just 14 games in the regular season, the New York Islanders find themselves sitting in the last wild-card spot. They are currently just three points ahead of the Florida Panthers for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Although the Panthers have one game in hand, the Islanders have been playing their best hockey of the season lately. In their past 10 games, the Islanders have six wins, three losses, and one shootout loss. Even with the injuries to Mathew Barzal and Jean-Gabriel Pageau, the team has been able to string some wings together to stay afloat in the playoff race.
They are about to head to the West Coast on a road trip, which includes games against the Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, and San Jose Sharks. This is a crucial road trip for the Islanders because their schedule doesn’t get any easier. They have already played more games than any team in the Eastern Conference, while the Panthers and Pittsburgh Penguins picked up points over the weekend. The race in the East is so tight right now that the Islanders need every point that they can get.
Getting Healthy at the Right Time
The Islanders have been unlucky the past few months with key injuries to the lineup. On Saturday night, injured winger Cal Clutterbuck returned to the lineup giving the Islanders more depth on their bottom six. (from ‘Islanders’ Cal Clutterbuck returns but not the Identity Line,’ NY Post, 3/12/23) It’s expected that Pageau could return to the lineup as early as Tuesday, but head coach Lane Lambert won’t say for sure. “He’s still day to day, but we’re hopeful,” Head Coach Lane Lambert said of a Pageau return. Pageau had to skip practice Monday for personal reasons, but if he is able to return to the lineup on Tuesday, it will be a massive boost for the team.
Pageau is such an important piece of the roster because of his versatility. He can play anywhere in the lineup, and he is one of the best penalty killers in the league. After Bo Horvat, he is the Islanders’ second-best center on faceoffs. With Pageau nearing a return, and Clutterbuck already back, the Islanders are nearing full strength. They are still missing their star forward Barzal, but he has not resumed skating yet. Horvat has done a pretty good job of taking some of the penalty kill responsibility in Pageau’s absence.
“I would assume, just the…