Islanders Enter All-Star Break in First Place
Five-game winning streak snapped in 3-2 shootout loss in Chicago
The Islanders would have loved to enter the All-Star break and their upcoming bye week with a season high-tying six-game winning streak.
But they’ll take being the hottest team in the NHL and having sole possession of first place in the Metropolitan Division instead.
After having its five-game winning streak snapped with Tuesday night’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in front of a sellout crowd of 21,330 at the United Center, New York finds itself with a league-best 15-3-1 record since the middle of December.
It also boasts a three-point lead over defending Stanley Cup champion Washington in the hunt for the top spot in the division.
Not so bad for a team that lost its best player, John Tavares, via a free agency to Toronto this past summer and installed an entirely new front office and coaching staff.
“We’ve played some really good hockey lately and maybe it was a bit of an off night, but we still found a way to get a point,” ceded Isles goaltender Robin Lehner after stopping 38 shots in regulation and overtime, only to give up tallies to Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in the NHL’s game-deciding skills competition.
Lehner, who was named the NHL’s First Star of the Week on Monday after going 3-0-0 with an 0.67 goals-against average in his previous three outings, helped the Isles (29-15-5) enter their extended hiatus with a six-game points streak (5-0-1).
More importantly, the team finds itself vastly improved and in a far better place than it was at this time last year, when the Isles were 24-20-5 and in the middle of an epic post-December slide that saw them miss the playoffs for a second straight year.
“It was a game we could have won. It’s frustrating, but we have to look at the big picture here,” said reigning Calder Trophy winner Mathew Barzal after potting his 14th goal of the year in New York’s first loss since a 2-1 setback to the New York Rangers at Barclays Center on Jan. 12.
“It’s been a great last two months and a great run,” Barzal added. “It’s going to be nice to get some time off here, re-group and hopefully bring that same pace and intensity.”
No team has had to grind harder than these Isles to get where they are.
After leading the NHL in goals against and shots allowed a season ago, a porous defensive performance that led to the firings of former head coach Doug Weight and general manager Garth Snow, the Isles are now tops in the league in goals allowed per contest (2.41), and Lehner leads the NHL with a 2.02 GAA.
This unfathomable turnaround is the result of new GM Lou Lamoriello’s penchant for team-building, first-year head coach Barry Trotz’s disciplined defense-first structure and the Isles’ overall on-ice effort.
They have blocked shots, scored timely goals and protected leads, three elements of their overall game that were sorely lacking the past several years.
“We’ve put a lot of work in and come together as a team. We’ve played the right way, and we’ve had a great month,” noted team captain Anders Lee.
“Now we can rest the legs, regroup a little bit, reset a little bit mentally and physically and come back excited for what’s going to be a really fun second half. We put ourselves in a great position, and that’s something that we’ve earned and nothing we can take for granted.”
The Isles will be off until Feb. 1, when they make their return to the ice against the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning at the renovated Nassau Coliseum.
New York’s next game at Downtown’s Barclays Center will be Feb. 9 at 1 p.m. vs. Colorado.
The first chapter of the battle for Downtown Brooklyn bragging rights went to the St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers men’s basketball on Monday afternoon.
Sophomore guard Jalen Jordan scored 20 points, and junior forward Deniz Celen added a career-high 18 as SFC used a big first half to hold off neighborhood rival LIU-Brooklyn, 79-70, in front of a bipartisan crowd of 758 at the Steinberg Wellness Center.
Grad student Glenn Sanabria added 15 points for the Terriers (12-7 overall, 4-2 Northeast Conference), who won their third game in a row, soaring above the Blackbirds (9-9, 3-3) in the NEC standings.
NEC Player of the Year candidate Raiquan Clark led the Blackbirds with a game-high 29 points to go with 14 rebounds, but LIU could never quite overcome a 50-31 halftime deficit despite a late second-half push.
The Terriers will try to extend their winning streak to a season-high four games Thursday night against Fairleigh Dickinson in Hackensack, N.J.
The Blackbirds will be back in action Thursday when they visit Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg, Maryland.
SFC and LIU will meet again on Valentine’s Day at Remsen Street’s Pope Center.
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