Originally written February 20, 2012 on Tonight's Healthy Scratches:
Presidents' Day, for many teams around the league, is often a day to reflect not only on the history of America's most newsworthy leaders, but to rest up and take stock in their current positions in the standings as the trade deadline approaches. For the Islanders though, this year represents an opportunity for hope. For change. For a chance to move within striking distance of the playoffs. The Isles will play host to the Ottawa Senators at 1 p.m. today, the first of games in consecutive days against teams in a similar situation. As of now, New York sits in 12th place in the East, six points behind Toronto for the last playoff spot with one game in hand. Today's game against Ottawa and tomorrow's game against Buffalo may very well decide if the Islanders are buyers or sellers this time next week in the final hours before the NHL's trade deadline. Wins in both games, depending on how Toronto fares at home against the red-hot Devils on Tuesday, could bring the Isles within three points of the Leafs. Despite getting miniscule production from Nino Niederreiter and Josh Bailey, supposed key pillars of this obnoxiously drawn out "rebuild" project Garth Snow has committed to, the Islanders remain very much alive in the playoff race. Now, this space has done a fair job of taking shots at the Islanders over the past few months. We admit that. And we're probably not done, either. Look, if you put a ball on a tee for Tiger Woods, expect him to hit it 300 yards. After all, who doesn't enjoy a good Rick DiPietro joke? But in the time we've spent snickering at the franchise, the Islanders, behind the strong play of John Tavares and the resurgence of Evgeni Nabokov as a bonafide number one goaltender, have climbed from the Eastern Conference cellar and now joined the conversation of teams that are vying for the final postseason berth. Matt Moulson is on pace for his third consecutive 30-goal season and career highs in both goals and points. He currently leads the team with 25. P.A. Parenteau continues to be a revelation on Long Island, ranking fifth in the NHL in assists, trailing only the likes of Erik Karlsson, Pavel Datsyuk, Claude Giroux and Henrik Sedin with 41. That's probably a bit more production than Snow figured he'd get when he picked him up essentially off the scrap heap before the 2010-11 season. These Islanders may just be for real. You wouldn't know it by going to a game though. They've ranked either 29th or 30th (which would be dead last, for those of you scoring at home) in average NHL attendance in every season since 2007-08, and remain mired in a quest for a new home. However, success over the next two days may pique the interest of the casual fan and bring them back to Nassau Coliseum in droves. With their hated rival sitting comfortably atop the Eastern Conference, a potential seven-game date with the Rangers in the Stanley Cup playoffs would certainly get their attention, no? These next 48 hours will go a long way in determining if we can start to get excited about the first all-New York playoff matchup since 1994. But more importantly, it will also determine just where this team stands among its peers.
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