Through 20 games, the New York Islanders are 8-6-6. That’s good for 22 points and 5th place in the Metropolitan Division. Only two points separate them from 2nd place in the division. But, no matter which way you slice it, the overall consensus from this first quarter of the Isles season has been… well… disappointing.
The theme of the season has been blowing leads… plenty of them. Out of the 20 games, the Islanders have blown leads in 10 of them. Seven of those were multi-goal leads, and they haven’t managed to pull through and find a way to win either. Out of those 10 games, only three resulted in a regulation win. The inability to stay with their game when in the lead resulted in a seven-game losing streak. Since those eight games, though, the Islanders have won two of three, finding ways to hold onto leads against the Philadelphia Flyers and Ottawa Senators. Maybe, just maybe, they’ve started to work through their struggles playing ahead.
That brings us to personnel, and whether the Islanders have gotten what they needed to from their top dogs. Ideally, Mat Barzal and Bo Horvat would be on a point-per-game pace. They’re each under that; Barzal with 16 points and Horvat with 14 points. Even though I think we’d all expect Horvat to have more than 5 goals through 19 games (that’s the same number of goals as Simon Holmstrom), he is shooting a career-low 8.5%. For reference, he shot 16.6%, 16.0%, and 14% over the past three seasons.
Brock Nelson has unsurprisingly been leading the team in goals with 10, and continues to be one of the most underrated players in the entire league. Nelson’s line with Pierre Engvall and Kyle Palmieri has continued their dominance from the end of last season.
The issue up front has been consistency and the lack of bottom six scoring. As a team, they’re 30th in GF/G at 2.55. JG Pageau is the only regular forward without a goal this season. Anders Lee has 4 and Oliver Wahlstrom has 2, so the third line hasn’t meshed too well just yet. In limited minutes, Hudson Fasching has just 1. I know a certain 39-year-old who scored 20 goals last season and whose dad played for the Islanders that might help… just saying.
On the defensive end, the Islanders haven’t looked nearly as good as they did under Barry Trotz. For a team that regularly sat in the top three in GA/G, they’re currently 14th (3.00). The lack of attention to detail and mental lapses have resulted in untimely goals and blowing leads (have I mentioned that yet?) Defensively, the penalty kill has looked atrocious. Something that used to be so reliable (consistently top 5) for the Islanders has turned into an Achilles heel, as they’re 31st in the league at 70.3%. At least the power play has improved drastically, sitting at 10th in the league at 22.2%.
“Looking forward, the Islanders are very much in the mix. It seems like every team in the Metro has looked shaky. The parity has resulted in the Islanders being just two points out of second place. Somehow they’ve managed to keep themselves in it.”
These defensive struggles have left goaltenders Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov in an extremely tough spot, yet they’ve still managed to pull through. As a tandem, they’re fourth in the league in SV% at .921, which is even more impressive considering they’ve faced the fourth most shots in the league. The only teams who have allowed more shots are rebuilding teams like San Jose, Columbus, and Montreal. As the defensive issues start to clean up, these numbers should only improve for Sorokin and Varlamov.
A lot of these struggles, and the consistency of these struggles seems to fall back on Lane Lambert. The Islanders roster is not one that is too different from those that Trotz led (save for a few additions up top), so the results shouldn’t look as worse as they are. Trotz’s Islanders were notoriously “boring,” grinding out 2-1 wins through physicality and a suffocating defensive scheme. Lambert’s Islanders might look more like Doug Weight’s Islanders, playing a loose game that relies on finishing and Sorokin stealing wins. Fans have been livid with Lambert but after a shootout victory against Calgary ended a seven-game losing streak, he might’ve bought himself a few more weeks under the helm.
If there have been any bright spots through the quarter mark of the season, Noah Dobson has to be one of them. His first handful of games were a bit rough, but he deleted his Twitter account and turned his entire game around. He leads the team in assists (11), power play points (8), and time on ice with 25:00/game. He’s started to morph into the defenseman many of us expect him to become.
Speaking of defenseman, the Islanders defeated the Senators with only four blueliners for most of the game. Adam Pelech and Sebastian Aho went down with injuries in the first period and missed the rest of the game. Pelech’s injury landed him on LTIR, with Aho’s seemingly less severe. Lambert and Lamoriello obviously were not comfortable with Sam Bolduc and AHL-callup Grant Hutton in a regular role, so they claimed veteran Mike Reilly off waivers from the Florida Panthers. Reilly should make his debut against the Devils on Tuesday night.
Looking forward, the Islanders are very much in the mix. It seems like every team in the Metro (save for the Rangers) has looked shaky. The parity has resulted in the Islanders being just two points out of second place. Somehow they’ve managed to keep themselves in it, and Pelech’s $5.75M on LTIR opens up a lot of cap space for potential trades.
If they want to stay in the hunt by the halfway point, there will need to be a lot less lead-blowing and a lot more winning. Whether or not that happens, though, HNiNY will be here to cover it all, so make sure to subscribe on Twitch, Youtube, and your preferred podcast providers so you don’t miss a show. Make sure to follow @hockeynightny on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok for even more Islanders content. HNiNY has weekly episodes every Sunday at 8pm.
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