The New York Islanders began their road trip the way they left off from their previous game. After a 5-1 loss to the Washington Capitals, they lost 5-2 to the Los Angeles Kings in a game where they scored the first goal but were outplayed afterward.
The recent game was a squandered opportunity for the Islanders to improve in the playoff picture. Instead, the loss suddenly makes the next two games pivotal. They have to earn points and possibly win the next two games on their road trip to maintain their playoff position in the Eastern Conference.
The Islanders have been carried by their goaltending all season. The duo of Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov has kept them in playoff contention and at times, made them look like a Stanley Cup contender. Sorokin in particular is having a Vezina Trophy-caliber season and is the goaltender who can lead the Islanders in a deep playoff run.
Unfortunately, in back-to-back games, the goaltending has let the Islanders down. Varlamov allowed five goals in the 5-1 loss to the Capitals on March 11 and Sorokin put together one of his worst performances of the season against the Kings, allowing four goals on 36 shots. Moreover, a handful of the goals he allowed were on shots he typically saves with ease and he either failed to pick up or misplayed.
Related: Islanders Must Prove They Are Playoff Worthy on West Coast Trip
The Islanders need Sorokin to rebound from the recent start if they hope to remain a playoff team. They’ve become too reliant on dominant goaltending and can’t win without it. The past two games have seen it struggle and the team as a result has fallen apart.
Islanders’ Penalties Cost Them
The second period is when the Islanders unraveled. They entered it with a one-goal lead and momentum in the game. However, after the Kings tied things up, they failed to respond and never recovered, especially after the scrum which forced them onto the penalty kill.
First came the Matt Martin penalty. During the scrum near the Islanders’ net, he tossed the helmet of one of the Kings players and was sent to the box with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Martin was trying to send a message and set the tone in the game but unfortunately, the move backfired and set the Islanders back.
A few seconds later, Zach Parise, who rarely takes penalties, clipped Gabriel Vilardi and was sent to the penalty box as well, giving the Kings a five-on-three power play. With only three skaters on the ice, the Islanders allowed two goals and suddenly were trailing 3-1.
The sequence all but ended the game. The Islanders were down 4-2 after the second period and had to chase the rest of the game, ultimately losing 5-2. Their penalty kill has been a strength this season but like the dominant goaltending, they’ve become dependent on it to play at a high level and when it doesn’t the team can get overwhelmed easily.
Aho Steps Up at the Point
Sebastian Aho has been a bright spot in the defensive unit all season. Along with filling the void on the left side, he has emerged as one of the best skating and puck-handling defensemen on the Islanders. Against the Kings, he stepped up from the blue line and helped create the team’s second goal of the game.
On the power play, Aho shot the puck from the point. With Jean-Gabriel Pageau crashing to the net, he deflected the puck into the back of the net. The goal was a nice way for Pageau to return to the lineup but was also a reminder of what Aho can provide in the offensive zone.
Other Takeaways From the Islanders’ Loss
- Pierre Engvall scored his second goal with the Islanders. Since being acquired at the trade deadline, he has struggled to find a role in the offense but recently he is starting to optimize his shot.
- Pageau’s return was a big one. Along with scoring the Islanders’ second goal, he blocked two shots and played a big role in both the power play and the penalty kill.
- The Islanders hit a wall in Kings goaltender Joonas Korpisalo, who saved 26 of the 28 shots he faced. This was the fourth time he has faced them this season and the familiarity finally paid off as he put together a remarkable performance in the net.
What’s Next for the Islanders
The Islanders will play the second game of a back-to-back as they face the Anaheim Ducks in their upcoming game. The Ducks are one of the worst teams in the league this year with a 22-35-10 record and the Islanders have to take advantage and overwhelm them on both ends of the ice.
With two losses in a row, the Islanders are once again allowing other teams to catch up to them in the standings. They have to step up to secure their playoff spot and with only 13 games remaining, every game becomes more pivotal for the team holding the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.