The Islanders Are In

April 19, 2024
Posted in News
April 19, 2024 Ava Salti

The Islanders are in.

Don’t ask us how they got there – it would be a story that would take ages to tell.

But I’m here with Hockey Night in New York, and I’ll try my best to tell you that very story:

The Islanders started the year with Lane Lambert at the helm, and the longtime Barry Trotz assistant that ran a system that left the Islanders playing way too loose and undisciplined. Lambert’s system – although it did elevate Noah Dobson, Mat Barzal and Bo Horvat’s offensive games – made the Islanders a subpar team. When Lambert was fired towards the end of January, the team was 19-15-11, sixth in the Metropolitan Division, and two points out of the final wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference. Lambert was replaced by Hall of Famer Patrick Roy, a move that shook the hockey world and could potentially go down as a classic from General Manager Lou Lamoriello.

The Islanders didn’t soar right away after Roy’s takeover. They won Roy’s first game behind the bench, defeating the Dallas Stars in overtime, but then dropped three in a row and eight of the next eleven. The Islanders looked to be more desperate under Roy, and his demeanor – passionate, motivated, and all-about-winning (a stark difference to Lambert’s stone-cold and dry one) was rubbing off on this Islanders group. 

After some time, Roy figured out who his guys were – sending down Julien Gauthier and opting for Kyle MacLean. Another Kyle – Kyle Palmieri – became arguably the Islanders best forward under Roy. Roy found ways to jumpstart guys when they needed a reset, healthy scratching Pierre Engvall before he became a difference maker in the final playoff push. He moved lines around and discovered combinations that many couldn’t have seen coming – his only major hiccup being separating Barzal and Horvat. 

“A common saying in hockey is that all you need to do is get in. The pesky Islanders are in – anything can happen now.”

The Islanders caught fire at the end of February – nearly a month after Roy’s hiring – winning six in a row and playing their best hockey of the year. They throttled the league’s bottom-dwellers in San Jose and Anaheim, and pulled out wins over the league’s best in Dallas and the Boston Bruins. This Islanders season couldn’t come easy, though, and they proceeded to lose their next six. After those six losses, the team could have mailed it in and started their summer vacation planning, but they rallied, alternating wins and losses before going 8-0-1 to end the season. 

When Patrick Roy took over, he said it would be “playoff hockey for the Islanders from now on.”  The Islanders made the playoffs by game 81, locking in a first round rematch with the Carolina Hurricanes. 

Last year, the Isles were not outmatched, with five of the six Islanders-Canes games being decided by one goal. The Hurricanes won both of the games that went to overtime, too, and the Islanders got subpar goaltending in what felt like every game of that series. This Islanders team is not nearly the same team as last year. They have three 30 goal scorers (Palmieri, Horvat and Brock Nelson) for the first time since 1993. Mat Barzal’s game is elevated to a level he hasn’t been to since his rookie year and the same goes for Noah Dobson, who became the only other defenseman since Denis Potvin to record 60 assists in a season. They’ve gotten here without the best version of Ilya Sorokin but instead with the best version of Semyon Varlamov, who led the team to the postseason and is third in the league in save percentage. He will be the game one starter. This Islanders team has new additions to the back end in Mike Reilly and Robert Bortuzzo. Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock are healthy. There’s a lot going for the Islanders as they look to take down the Canes.

The Hurricanes finished second in the Metro, splitting the season series against the Islanders (2-1-1). They have a whopping 12 goal-scorers in double figures, with Sebastian Aho and Seth Jarvis leading the way. The Hurricanes are notorious for having an excellent defensive group, and Brent Burns, Jaccob Slavin, Brady Skjei, Dmitry Orlov, Brett Pesce and Jalen Chatfield round out a stellar core. They added former Pittsburgh Penguin Jake Guentzel at the trade deadline, too. There are not any glaring weaknesses in this Canes team, but there’s a path through them for the Islanders.

The Islanders play their best hockey at 5v5. They’ve taken the second fewest minor penalties in the NHL and it’s imperative that they stay disciplined and out of the box. The Hurricanes excel in special teams, with the league’s top penalty kill and second best power play. If they keep the game where they play it the best – at even strength – they should be more than fine. It will be an enticing series between two battled-tested and veteran-led teams. It will surely be a chess match between two former cup-winning players behind the benches. Looking forward to an exciting series and we’ll always have you covered here at HNiNY.

A common saying in hockey is that all you need to do is get in. The pesky Islanders are in – anything can happen now.

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(Photo of Varlamov: Sammi Silber / THN)


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