The New York Islanders had a tough week to start the season, to say the least. They lost their opening night game to the Carolina Hurricanes 6-3 and lost to the Florida Panthers 5-1 in the next game, a game that was controlled by the Panthers from the opening puck drop.
Granted, the first two Islanders opponents were two of the toughest on the 13-game road trip to start the season and the team is expected to bounce back but the way the games unfolded have to be concerning for head coach Barry Trotz and the coaching staff, making the upcoming game against the Chicago Blackhawks, another team looking to bounce back from a rough start, a crucial one. In addition to adjustments, the Islanders will hope that some units step up and can lead the way in the upcoming game and throughout the road trip as well.
Defensive Improvement & Eliminating The Blackhawks Top Line
The Islanders allowed 40 shots on their 26-year-old goaltender Ilya Sorokin in the loss to the Hurricanes. For a defense that allowed 29.9 shots per game last season, this was concerning and the high shot total understandably resulted in a six-goal game. In addition, throughout the first two games, the Islanders’ defensemen allowed the opposing skaters to effectively carry the puck into the offensive zone and establish a scoring presence. Granted, the Islanders faced two great forward units that can score on any defense in the NHL but this team is led by their defense and win by eliminating opponents in the defensive zone, whether it’s recently extended top defenseman Ryan Pulock alongside Adam Pelech, or Scott Mayfield on the backend, and failed to do in both games.
The Islanders now face a Blackhawks offense that is led by their top line with Patrick Kane, Kirby Dach, and Alex DeBrincat creating open shots in the offensive zone off great puck-movement. The Islanders will have a tall task eliminating the scoring line that has scored three of their team’s five goals this season. However, if the defensemen can play the passing lanes and limit shots on the net, the upcoming game could become a decisive victory as the Blackhawks’ offensive production drops off significantly in the other three forward lines.
Islanders Power Play Improvements
The Islanders’ power play has only scored once in seven opportunities this season. The power play has looked promising with effective passes and the team finding open skaters near the net and the goals should follow in the upcoming games but if the Islanders continue to struggle on the man advantage, Trotz will need to change up the unit and possibly insert center Anders Lee on one of the forward lines. The Blackhawks matchup will be particularly telling as the Islanders can find a few goals early on in the game if they can get on the power play with an offensive zone presence and Mathew Barzal or Oliver Wahlstrom finding the back of the net on accurate shots.
Brock Nelson & Scoring Depth
The Brock Nelson, Anthony Beauvillier, and Josh Bailey line has only managed six shots on the net in each of the last two games. Aside from the Nelson goal early on in the Hurricanes game and a few close chances from Beauvillier throughout the two games, the forward line has been ineffective and as a result, the Islanders scoring depth has struggled. Last season, the shift combined for 41 goals and 55 assists while adding 18 goals and 20 assists in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, giving the Islanders a strong scoring presence, and the early-season struggles have directly correlated to the inability to generate offense from the backend of the forwards unit.
In the upcoming game against the Blackhawks, the Islanders forwards unit as a whole need to step up but more importantly, Nelson, Beauvillier, and Bailey need to start creating scoring chances. The Blackhawks defense has allowed opponents to move the puck into the offensive zone and fire shots on the net early on this season, culminating in four goals allowed in the first period to the Pittsburgh Penguins in their recent 5-2 defeat. With the opponents’ defensive unit playing poorly early on this season, the Islanders should take advantage.
What Else Will The Islanders Need Against The Blackhawks?
After starting out the season with two losses, eager for a win, the Islanders could use a big performance from their top line skaters with Barzal or Lee carrying the puck through the neutral zone and creating scoring opportunities where there otherwise wouldn’t be, especially against the Blackhawks defensive pairings. In addition, the Islanders will look for their defensemen to create scoring opportunities off of turnovers with Noah Dobson potentially leading a few scoring chances in this game. Ultimately, both teams are hoping to finally get into the win column and this game looks to be a good one as a result.
Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November 2020 and covers the New York Islanders. In addition to covering the Islanders, Fink writes about the NHL at large and contributes as a weekly guest to The Hockey Writers Podcast. Follow Mike on Twitter @Finks_thoughts for more Islanders and general hockey insights.