The New York Islanders lost 3-0 to the Toronto Maple Leafs, losing their second game at home this season, and on the heels of a 5-2 loss to the Calgary Flames, they have now lost six straight. This is the longest losing streak since the 2019-20 NHL season, when the Islanders lost seven games before the season was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In addition to the recent losing streak, the Islanders have only won five of their first 15 games, and are in last place in the Metropolitan Division. Considering how the divisional opponents have played to start the season, the current losing streak is concerning, as the Islanders not only need to turn things around, but also leap many competitive teams in the upcoming months.
The Covid Outbreak & Injuries
The Covid-19 outbreak within the roster in more than one way has been the primary reason for the Islanders’ recent struggles. Josh Bailey, Anders Lee, Anthony Beauvillier, Keiffer Bellows, and Adam Pelech all missed at least one game in the past week, and might miss more games in the upcoming week. The unpredictable loss of players and inconsistency within the roster has forced head coach Barry Trotz to shuffle the forward lines and defensive pairings, but also quickly call up players from the Bridgeport Islanders to insert into the lineup.
To make matters worse, injuries piled up during the losing streak. Defenseman Ryan Pulock is going to be out of the lineup for multiple weeks with a lower-body injury, and as the team’s top defensemen, he is arguably the most valuable player to their success. Furthermore, Brock Nelson, the leading goal scorer on the team with nine goals, left the game against the Maple Leafs early with a lower-body injury as well.
The Islanders roster doesn’t have any star in particular that can carry the team, rather the roster is carried by its depth which has allowed the Islanders to reach the Stanley Cup Semifinals in consecutive seasons. The downside to a roster carried by its backend like this one is when multiple players are missing and currently, the team is unraveling.
Islanders Power Play Struggles Continue
The Islanders’ power play has only scored on 12.2% of opportunities this season and during the losing streak, have only scored one power-play goal while allowing two short-handed goals on 17 opportunities. Even the numbers fail to tell the full story as the Islanders’ power play has looked hapless, failing to move the puck, open up the offense, or generate shots on the net. The lack of scoring defensemen and chemistry in the offensive zone can be easily attributed to the struggles but since the start of the season, the unit has become a liability as the skaters allow for odd-man rush opportunities and effective penalty kills.
Islanders Are Failing To Establish An Offensive Zone Presence
Following the recent shutout defeat, the Islanders are averaging only 2.07 goals per game, second-worst in the NHL behind the Arizona Coyotes’ 1.79 goals per game. The inability to carry the puck into the offensive zone has especially been disappointing, as Mathew Barzal and Jean-Gabriel Pageau helped fuel the offense last season with their ability to startup the offensive zone play. They are both failing to do so early on this year, forcing the forward unit to oftentimes chip the puck past the blue line and along the boards, a risky strategy for the team to be effective offensively throughout a game.
Additionally, the offense is struggling once the Islanders have puck possession in the zone with the passing and ability to open up the defense being a particular downfall of the offense. Granted, the injuries have played a large part in the forward unit failing to find and create effective shots on the net but throughout the recent dry spell, where the team has only scored six goals in as many games, there has to be concern from the coaching staff about the roster and if they can turn a corner in the upcoming games, and find quick shots and offensive zone possession.
Islanders Positive Notes From The Recent Games
With the injuries and the chaotic roster shuffling, the Islanders have struggled. The bright side, however, has been the play of the skaters that were called up. Defensemen Robin Salo, Sebastian Aho, and Grant Hutton all had their fair share of mistakes but also proved to Trotz and the coaching staff that they can contribute to the roster over the course of the season, especially in the neutral zone where the team must add speed to help out the offense. Additionally, the coaching staff saw veteran forward Richard Panik, who was acquired in the Nick Leddy trade, help out the later forward lines in the past two games and generate shots on the goal.
The Islanders also were reminded in the losses that they have a great goaltending duo. They are allowing plenty of goals, including five or more in three of their last six losses, but many were scored on empty nets while the team was oftentimes singlehandedly carried by the goaltending duo of Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin. Sorokin has notably stood out early on this season with a .925 save percentage and a 2.54 goals-against average on 385 shots, including the recent game against the Maple Leafs where he saw 40 shots in the defeat, and the strong play from the 26-year-old goaltender provides confidence for the rest of this season and for years to come.
Ultimately, the Islanders’ current skid has plenty of reasons to be concerned as they remain in last place in a competitive division. However, even with the losses mounting, there are plenty of fixable issues and promising signs within the roster that hint towards a turnaround, with 67 games still remaining on the Islanders’ schedule.
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.