December provided the first inklings of cracks in the New York Islanders’ foundation.
After starting the season as one of the hottest teams in the NHL, Barry Trotz’s men fell back down to Earth a bit — most notably in their defensive end.
The NHL’s leading defense, which has conceded 100 goals in its first 38 games, has allowed a bloated 3.86 goals per game over their last seven affairs. That included getting ripped apart for eight by the Nashville Predators on Dec. 17 before a 6-5 shootout loss to the Anaheim Ducks and a 5-2 clunker to the Chicago Blackhawks.
They’ve lost four of their last seven games with most of those struggles coming against lower-ranked teams in the Western Conference.
Whether it was playing down to lesser opponents or not, the Islanders still escaped December with an 8-5-1 record following a New Year’s Eve victory over the first-place Washington Capitals.
The 4-3 win moved New York within six points of the Capitals for the Metropolitan Division lead with three games in hand.
Tuesday night provides the Islanders with their first matchup of the year with the New Jersey Devils — a team that has mightily disappointed in 2019-20.
After drafting Jack Hughes and acquiring PK Subban and Nikita Gusev, the Devils are in last in the Metropolitan. It resulted in the firing of their head coach, John Hynes on Dec. 3.
They’ve played slightly better under interim bench boss Alain Nasreddine with a 5-6-2 record, but it’s done little to improve their standing as one of the worst teams in hockey.
For a team that ranks second-to-last in the Eastern Conference in goals scored and conceded, the Devils offer the Islanders an opportunity to regain some consistency on both ends of the ice on Thursday night at the Nassau Coliseum.
Offensively speaking, the Islanders’ motor has been a sputtering one for much of the season. Granted, it was expected for a team that stresses defense first rather than a marauding brand of attacking hockey.
Still, it’s become clear that the last piece of the Islanders’ Stanley Cup-contending puzzle is a ruthless sniper that can find the back of the net with ease.
The Islanders’ 114 goals this season ranks 12th out of 16 Eastern Conference teams.
It makes the next month leading up to the February trade deadline an intriguing one as all eyes will be on Lou Lamoriello’s willingness to make a move.
The continuing emergence of Kieffer Bellows in the minors, though, could see the Islanders look for an internal option before going to market.
New York’s young forward has 12 goals in his last 14 games for the organization’s AHL affiliate in Bridgeport. At 21 years old, it’s an impressive showing for a youngster against older professional opposition.