In an hour the Islanders will be hosting the Boston Bruins, the seventh placed team in the East that sit seven points ahead of the orange and blue. The Isles are only six points out of the playoff race but only have 18 games remaining, including this afternoon's tilt.
Here's the long and short of it: If they play today's game the way they played the Atlanta Thrashers Thursday night, as well as any of the others that remain, they are not going to make the playoffs. Plain and simple.
The team shouldn't have to dig for some soul searching at this point of the season; it should be there already. They all have to know by now what is at stake with each game that they play, considering most of them are going to be against teams they are fighting with for a playoff spot.
That means it's time for guys like Tavares, Okposo, Moulson, Bailey and Comeau to really shine. Blake has been on fire lately, having scored a hat trick against the Chicago Blackhawks for the first of his NHL career. It was fun walking into the locker room after the game and seeing all the P.C. Richard's Whistle dolls that were thrown onto the ice spread about the floor right in front of his locker stall. They all were in high spirits and seemed confident and ready for the next challenge - and this was before the Trade Deadline. But then they came up flat when everything was said and done.
Tavares still has been quiet on the ice since returning from the break. It won't be the end of the world if he doesn't have a strong finish like everyone is hoping. He just needs to continue to play hard and do what the coach asks of him. He's putting lots of pressure on himself as the first overall pick and a consistent OHL offensive threat to lead this team into the playoffs. In time, he will. But right now he's still maturing and learning the NHL game.
Therefore Okposo, Bailey and Moulson need to step up and do a little bit more. Matty has to bury those loose pucks like he normally does, Josh needs to find that scoring streak he had in early February, and Kyle must continue to lead by example and drive hard to the net and set up plays in the offensive zone.
A lot comes down to Rick DiPietro too. An answer needs to be made on whether or not he is going to play another game this season. GM Garth Snow stated that he is optimistic that he will, but optimism is a sign of hope, not certainty. With Biron and Roloson still on board there is tension in the locker room.
Many players voiced their opinions in yesterday's Newsday that they are unhappy with the current goalie situation. If anyone has played hockey they can understand what this does to you as a player. As a player, you know that Goalie A will be able to stop certain shots that Goalie B won't be able too, or that Goalie A plays the puck "this" way while Goalie B plays that puck "that" way. Goalie B may also play his rebounds differently than Goalie A as well. There are several intangibles that go into a player's thought process depending on who is standing between the pipes. It's not a lack of confidence in one goaltender over the other, it's just an adjustment that all the skaters have to make regarding who is in goal. They adjust and adapt. But when someone like Rick is thrown in, who hasn't played in what feels like centuries, it throws everyone off balance and changes the way the team performs.
Rick's recovery hasn't been going as planned and it continues to hurt the team more than it does good. If this rehabilitation process continues on into next season, the Islanders will struggle to progress through the rebuild.
Regardless of who is in net or who scores the goals, the Isles must get two points this afternoon.
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