Believe it or not, the Islanders still have a chance to make the playoffs

The Islanders got off to a slow start in the 2016-2017 season, but here at the end of January they are still very much alive in the playoff race. The team fired Jack Capuano on January 17th, and have since had a record of 2-0-1 with interim head coach Doug Weight. The team looks to be playing with more confidence and since Weight took over.

Looking at the Wild Card race, the Islanders with 47 points are just 5 points behind the 2nd Wild Card team, the Philadelphia Flyers. At this point, they’d have to jump 6 teams which is not an easy task, but the way the season started, Islander fans should be thrilled that the team still has a decent shot. An advantage the Islanders have is that they have at least 1 game in hand on every team in front of them, including 3 on the Flyers. That being said, the team must take care of business if they want to make it to the playoffs for a 3rd consecutive season.

A huge turning point in the season was when the Islanders waived Jaroslav Halak, and have since rolled with Thomas Greiss as their starting goalie. Greiss appears to give the Islanders the best chance to win every night, as he has also been very hot of lately, including back to back shutouts last week. While Jack Capuano took most of the blame for the Islanders’ inability to hold leads late in games, that also falls on the shoulders of the goalie. Greiss also came through big for the Islanders in the 2015-2016 playoffs, being a huge part in why the team won that series against the Florida Panthers. I think having him be the number 1 goalie was the right call.

They also have gotten a lot of production from Anders Lee. After the team let 2 of the team’s better offensive players go in Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielson, someone needed to step up alongside John Tavares. Lee has been that guy, with 17 goals thus far on the season with 24 points overall. If the team could get more production from Andrew Ladd, who was their big free agent signing, it would greatly help the offense. However, Lee has been solid this season after a slow start, and is feasting playing on the same line as John Tavares.

And who could forget John Tavares, who has been playing some of the best hockey of his career over the last 6 games, with 8 goals and an assist. The team is reliant on him, if he continues this tear, others around him will improve.

While the Islanders still have a lot of work to do to make the playoffs, if I told you a month ago they’d only be 5 points out of a playoff spot, would you believe me? Well, they are with still a lot of hockey to play. It is important that they strictly focus on beating the team in front of them. They have to jump a bunch of teams, but it is very possible. The beauty of hockey is that right now the Islanders are tied for last in the Eastern Conference, but we’re still talking playoff possibilities in late January. So, if the Islanders want to make the playoffs, they need Thomas Greiss to keep up the consistency, John Tavares to continue his dominance, and help from other players like Anders Lee, Andrew Ladd, and Brock Nelson. There’s still a lot of hockey to be played, and the Islanders are 1 run away from being in business. As a hockey fan, you can’t ask for anything more than your team playing meaning fun games down the stretch. Hopefully in March, the Islanders will still be in striking distance to take hold of the 2nd Wild Card spot.

All stats via nhl.com

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Mike’s Championship Sunday Predictions

NFC Championship

Green Bay Packers @ Atlanta Falcons

If you thought the Packers matchup in the Divisional Round with the Dallas Cowboys was high scoring, expect much of the same in this one. Arguably the two hottest offenses will matchup in an attempt to make it to Super Bowl 51. I predict that whoever possess the ball last in this game with a chance to win will win the game. Both these teams have more faith in their offenses. I’d say the Falcons have the edge on defense, as well as home field advantage. But, Aaron Rodgers has been playing flawless football since mid November. I expect him to continue the Packers win streak, and upset the Atlanta Falcons. Right now, I don’t think anyone can beat Aaron Rodgers. Some of the Packers best receivers are questionable to play including Jordy Nelson, but as long as Aaron Rodgers plays, I expect them to win. This matchup will indeed be a shootout. I’ll say Packers 45, Falcons 41.

AFC Championship

Pittsburgh Steelers @ New England Patriots

In 12 of the last 13 Super Bowls, the AFC team has been quarterbacked by either Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, or Peyton Manning. Make that 13 of the last 14 as Roethlisberger will be squaring off with Brady in what I expect to be an all time classic. The Steelers offense is lethal led by Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Le’Veon Bell. The Patriots on the other hand have a guy that strictly wins in the playoffs in Tom Brady. To be clear, each of the 4 teams left are known for their offenses. The defensive play in this game should be a little better than the NFC Championship. This matchup will come down to which quarterback makes that one mistake in which the opposition will take advantage of. Each team is going to score points, but the defense that makes that one big play should lead that team to victory. The Patriots appear to have a better defense, and I think that will be the difference in this game. Tom Brady will appear in yet another Super Bowl, and I predict he will school the Steelers defense that has been playing good football of late. This matchup is exciting, and Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers will not go down without a fight, but Tom Brady is just so tough to beat, especially at home in the playoffs. I’ll say Patriots 35, Steelers 27.

Will the firing of Jack Capuano provide a spark for the Islanders?

According to multiple reports, the New York Islanders have fired head coach Jack Capuano. This coming the day after one of the teams better wins on the season, a 4-0 victory against the Boston Bruins. The team is 17-17-8, and sitting in last place in the Metropolitan Division. It was only a matter of time, as the team consistently blew 3rd period leads, and simply have not met expectations thus far this season. Assistant coach Doug Weight will serve as the interim head coach.

The blame for the Islanders struggles this season can be placed on many, and Capuano was certainly one of them. However, some might question the personnel he was dealt with this season. The Islanders did not resign two of their top players in Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielson, as well as the former NHL leader in hits Matt Martin. There certainly are many new faces on the team this year, and in my opinion it killed the teams chemistry. Other players had to step up to help the team’s best player, John Tavares. After winning a playoff series in 2016 for the first time since the 1992-1993 season, it looked as if the team was moving forward. The season is not over, but last place at this point is unacceptable.

So now we stand with a new head coach in Doug Weight. Maybe this is the spark the Islanders need. They are only 8 points out of a playoff spot, and maybe the players will preform with some fire now. They are a win streak away from being right in the thick of things. Jack Capuano may have been here through the ups and downs, but he helped the team break a negative streak they had been stuck with for years. I will never forget the 2016 season.

The team has a lot of talent, and fans have been waiting for them to take the next step. Unfortunately, Jack Capuano’s time was up here in New York, as the team has underachieved. By firing Capuano in the middle of the season, in my opinion it shows the team believes they still have a chance at making the playoffs.This could lead to the team making a run towards the postseason. They might fall short, but maybe this is the spark the team needed to realize no one’s job is safe. If the struggles continue, fans will be calling next for General Manager Garth Snow to be fired. Jack Capuano’s legacy with the Islanders is simple, he brought some hope and enjoyment to Islander fans, but his team just did not peak their potential.

 

Mike’s NFL Divisional Round Predictions

Seattle Seahawks @ Atlanta Falcons

The Seahawks are always tough in the playoffs, and last weekend the emergence of Thomas Rawls could prove to be a huge advantage for Seattle. Rawls has a similar running style to Marshawn Lynch, and Lynch used to jumpstart the Seattle offense. The game is in Atlanta, however the Falcons have not proven yet that they can find success in the playoffs. It all will come down to if the Falcons offense can continue it’s dominance against a tough Seahawks defense. This is an interesting matchup, and a big one for Matt Ryan’s career in Atlanta. He can change his legacy in Atlanta, but I think playing the Seahawks will be too tough of a task. I’ll say Seahawks 27, Falcons 21.

Houston Texans @ New England Patriots

The Texans have gotten absolutely no respect, despite being in the playoffs. Their defense is tough, however the Patriots have a guy named Tom Brady as their quarterback. I don’t think the Texans offense will be able to outscore the Patriots offense, setting up Houston for a long game. While it is the NFL and anything can happen, the Patriots should win this game comfortably. Houston can make a huge statement to the league by winning this game, but I don’t expect them to even make the game close. If the Patriots give the Texans a glimmer of hope, they better watch out. But I don’t think the Patriots will have any problem in this game, especially with the game being played in New England. I’ll say Patriots 31- Texans 14.

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs are an interesting team. They get no respect, yet they always seem to find a way to get it done. With a tough defense, Alex Smith has been a perfect fit at quarterback for the team. A guy who limits turnovers and also has the ability to make plays, he has been playing very well for Kansas City. The Steelers offense is electric and could very well carry them to the Super Bowl, but this game to me seems like one of those games that the Chiefs just find a way to win. Plus, playing in Kansas City is no easy task. The Chiefs defense against the Steelers offense sets up to be an intriguing matchup. I expect this game to be very close. Another question with Pittsburgh is how healthy Ben Roethlisberger will be, after he injured his foot last week against the Miami Dolphins. The Steelers defense has been playing great football as well of late, but Kansas City is due for a big playoff win. I think the winner of this game may end up giving the Patriots a run for their money and represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. I’ll say Chiefs 24, Steelers 21.

Green Bay Packers @ Dallas Cowboys

Aaron Rodgers has been playing flawless football since the end of November, and found a way to score 38 against a very tough New York Giants defense last week. This matchup seems to be the most anticipated of all the Divisional Round games. Dak Prescott has had a phenomenal rookie season regardless of what happens in this one. I expect a shootout in this one, but it will be tough for Prescott to outscore Rodgers. Yes the Cowboys beat the Packers during the regular season, but Aaron Rodgers is now playing arguably the best football of his career. I don’t think either of these defenses will hold up in this game, but I expect a very well played game by the offenses. I do think the Cowboys will play well as they have all year, but the Packers offense may be too much for the Cowboys defense. The Cowboys need to make it a ground and pound game with their rookie running back Ezekiel Elliot if they want to win this game. It’s so hard to pick against Aaron Rodgers right now, especially with the confidence he is playing with. I’ll say Packers 41, Cowboys 34.

Mike’s NFL Wild Card Weekend Predictions

Oakland Raiders @ Houston Texans

I like the Texans in this one for one reason: the Raiders are without Derek Carr. If Derek Carr was not injured, the Raiders might be favorites to make it to the AFC Championship game and challenge the New England Patriots. Connor Cook is making his first career start for the Raiders against a struggling Texan team. This is a huge game for Brock Osweiler, who received a huge contract from the Texans during the offseason. He might not play great, but he will do enough to win against a Raiders team who looked disinterested in their week 17 matchup against the Denver Broncos. I don’t envision the winner of this matchup winning more than this game in the playoffs, but in football you play the games for a reason. I’ll say Texans 14, Raiders 6.

Detroit Lions @ Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks over the past few seasons have always been tough in the playoffs. This certainly is not the same team we’ve seen in the past, but they should be just fine against a Lions team that has lost 3 in a row heading into the playoffs. With the whole Lions team riding around quarterback Matthew Stafford, this will be tough as he continues to play through an injured finger on his throwing hand. Plus, going to Seattle is never easy. I expect the Seahawks to make some noise in the playoffs, but don’t sleep on Matthew Stafford. I’ll say Seahawks 24, Lions 17.

Miami Dolphins @ Pittsburgh Steelers

This is the first time Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown have all been healthy for a playoff game for the Steelers. That is lethal. This team should have no problem against the Dolphins led by backup quarterback Matt Moore. Regardless, this season has been a success for the Dolphins, considering they started the season 1-4 and are now in the playoffs sitting at 10-6. They did beat the Steelers in the regular season, but Roethlisberger got injured in this game. The Steelers are riding a 7 game in streak, and are playing great football. The Steelers have their eyes set on challenging the New England Patriots for the AFC title, and I think they have a shot. No team can be taken lightly in the playoffs, and I don’t think the Steelers will slip up. I’ll say Steelers 28, Dolphins 17.

New York Giants @ Green Bay Packers

Two of the hottest teams in the NFL, this matchup should be the best of Wild Card Weekend. Two Super Bowl MVP’s facing off, the biggest question in this game is who is tougher to beat, the Giants secondary or Aaron Rodgers? I’m going with Aaron Rodgers, because he has been playing some of the best football of his career over the Packers’ 6 game win streak to end the season. The Giants definitely have a shot. Their defense is making a case to be the best in football, and if they win this one watch out. I just think the Giants offense has not been playing well all year, and it could hold them back in this one.  If the Giants play their game and make it low scoring, they have an excellent shot. If the game becomes a shootout, unless Eli Manning goes off, forget about it. I think the winner of this one may very well represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. I’ll say Packers 24, Giants 20.