The unexpected NHL shutdown could turn out to be the saving grace for the 2019-20 New York Islanders and their playoff hopes.
A strong start, quiet trade deadline, and disappointing finish. The New York Islanders‘ 2019-20 season was on track to play out like so many years before. The once-promising Isles were falling out of the playoffs after a dominant run earlier in the year.
But in a flash, coronavirus put a halt to the NHL season and the Isles were saved.
Of course, the damage COVID-19 is inflicting is more important than hockey games, but it’s impossible to ignore how much the coronavirus hiatus might help the Isles.
Stop the losing
The Isles were failing and flailing by mid-March. After shooting to the top of the standings earlier in the year, the Islanders dropped all the way out of the playoff race by the time the hiatus began.
New York sits at 80 points, trailing the two Eastern Conference wild-card teams—Carolina Hurricanes and Columbus Blue Jackets—by one point. With that said, the Isles have two games in hand over Columbus.
After losing seven in a row and 11 of their last 13, it’s hard to see the Isles taking advantage of those two games in hand, but again, the shutdown may have been just the break this team needed.
Style of play
It’s still unclear how the NHL plans to pick up the 2019-20 season, but expect most teams to come back rusty. When the season was shut down in March, teams were starting to find their rhythm as the postseason approached.
Now, with the stunted season, some teams are going to struggle to regain offensive chemistry they spent months buildings.
Luckily for the Islanders, they are a team based on stout defending and slowing the game down with their physicality. The blue and orange are currently tied for fifth in the NHL in goals against (190) and 10th in goals-against average (2.69).
If they can figure out how to stay out of the penalty box and avoid putting their average penalty-killing unit on the ice, the Isles will be able to control the tempo and physicality of most games after the break. After all, the Islanders lead the NHL in hits per game (28.2).
Capable of a hot streak
The Stanley Cup Playoffs are unique. While a seven-game series in the NBA will always favor the more talented team, that same can’t be said of the NHL’s postseason. Teams can heat up out of nowhere in hockey and go on a dramatic, unexpected run.
Although it may have came too early in the year, the 2019-20 Isles showed that they’re capable of going scorched earth on the rest of the NHL. In October and November, head coach Barry Trotz led his squad to 15 wins in 16 games and 31 points out of a possible 32.
At the time, the Isles looked like a lock to make the playoffs and a legitimate Stanley Cup hopeful. It’s funny how quickly things can change.
Fans are hoping that if and when the NHL returns, the pendulum swings back in the Isles’ favor.
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