Islanders Must Take Advantage Of Early Home-Cooking

Every NHL team’s schedule is the same. It starts this week and it ends the second week of April. In between, they will all feature 82 games equally divided between home and road.

But not all schedules were created equal.

The Islanders have no choice, but to come out of the gates playing some of their best hockey because the beginning of their season may have a large impact on the end. The schedule composition is staggering when you pay attention to the location of the games. The Islanders start with 10 of their first 13 games of the season at Barclays Center. That would be significant enough if that’s where the imbalance ended.

Even after a trip to the two Florida franchises and all three California teams (Happy Thanksgiving from San Jose) in the month of November, it still adds up to 14 of the first 22 at home. The Islanders will play more home games than on the road in each of the first four months on the schedule, and by Feb. 6, will have played 31 of their first 51 games at home. That leaves just 10 home games and 21 road games to be played over the season’s final 60 days (You know … “crunch time”).

islanders-sharks-nelson-vlasic-road-101116

That home stretch of the season will be played almost exclusively on the road. There is a franchise-long, nine-game road trip from Feb. 21 to March 11 that includes games in Detroit, Montreal, and Columbus followed by a four-day break and then trips to Dallas, Chicago, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and St. Louis. There is the month of April, which features four straight road games before the regular season finale in Brooklyn.

Given the choice, almost every coach would choose to backload their home schedule. But points are points and once you have them, they can’t take them away from you.

Only five teams won more road games than home last season and only two of them made the playoffs. Strangely enough, the San Jose Sharks went 18-20-3 at the Tank, but put up a league-best 28 wins on the road. They were the only team with a losing record at home to make it to the postseason and they made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.

But this is the Islanders we are talking about and for all the negativity surrounding the ice in Brooklyn, it’s hard to argue with the results. While adjusting to a new home in 2015-16 and faced with a home-heavy schedule early on, the Isles built a 25-11-5 record at Barclays. The early stretch is a fair comparison (they played 10 of their first 15 at home), but last year’s team finished with six of their final eight at home. They went 4-1-0 to start that stretch, clinched a playoff spot, and then finished by losing two of their last three.

The disadvantages of playing the vast majority of late-season games on the road are obvious enough, but there are some positives to home-cooking in the fall. In early parts of the season, while coaches are still tinkering with lines and pairings, Jack Capuano will have last change. If needed, they will be able to hide their own chemistry experiments against favorable matchups or pounce on lines still getting comfortable with one another. While new players are looking for ways to gel with new teammates and everyone is working to settle into routines, the Isles will have a head start.

New York Islanders head coach Jack Capuano gives instructions during an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, March 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

It all starts with the closest thing to a home game on the road – a trip to Madison Square Garden – on Thursday. It races out from there with 13 games in 25 days, all against different teams. Another caveat to the schedule is that only five of the first 21 games are against the Metropolitan Division.

The Islanders will have to be good at home again this season … and that means sooner rather than later.

STARTED FROM THE BOTTOM, NOW WE’RE HERE

Hockey players are a different breed.

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before:

An undrafted free agent out of a small school gets a chance to prove his worth in the ECHL. He spends a couple of years there, on some bad teams, but manages to make an all-star game in his second season and, during the off-season, gets an AHL contract. He spends five years in the same organization, and even earns a call-up for three NHL games, but there are some talented guys ahead of him and he never gets his full-time opportunity. Then out of nowhere, he gets released. He contemplated getting out of hockey, but he still had a desire to make it to the NHL. He latched on with another AHL team and even made a trip to the Calder Cup Finals. Then after 10 years of pro hockey and more than 700 games, he finally made it.

My story is not that different than some of the players in the National Hockey League (check out Bracken Kearns HockeyDB page if you don’t believe me).

Granted, my journey came with a lot less physical talent and a few more slices of pizza along the way.