The New York Islanders lost 5-3 against the Colorado Avalanche to cap off a five-game road trip filled with multiple positive and negative notes. The Islanders won two games and lost two games in regulation while also losing to the San Jose Sharks in a shootout, earning five of the possible 10 points.
The Islanders are approaching the trade deadline with much uncertainty. With the team remaining on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, failing to build momentum for a playoff push, it’s likely Lou Lamoriello and the front office will re-tool the roster at the trade deadline. However, with the Islanders continuing to play well in all three zones, there’s a lot of reason to remain optimistic about the schedule ahead, with the team more than capable of climbing the standings in both the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference.
Slow Starts Continue to Cost the Islanders
A reoccurring issue throughout the season has been slow starts for the Islanders in games. Instead of getting ahead early in the first period and settling into the game, the team is often either on the penalty kill early or allow an early goal and have to chase the game. The road trip was no exception with the team allowing quick goals to both the Los Angeles Kings and the Avalanche, both games resulting in losses with the team being forced to catch up and play with a sense of urgency. The other three games on the road trip saw them score first and get ahead early, and while the game against the Sharks ultimately resulted in a shootout loss, the other two games were decisive victories.
Trotz Needs to Start Aho & Bellows More
The 26-year-old defenseman, Sebastian Aho, filled in on the left side of the defense for the Islanders throughout the road trip. Andy Greene was scratched from the lineup for the first three games while Zdeno Chara missed the final two games of the road trip with an injury, requiring the young defenseman to step up. Aho didn’t disappoint, especially in the offensive zone where he distributed four assists in the five games and almost netted the game-winning goal against the Avalanche, with the goal being overturned upon video review. Moreover, the young defenseman gave the Islanders an added layer of speed in the defensive unit, something the team has lacked throughout the season.
Chara and Greene are both experienced defensemen that play disciplined games in the defensive zone and force turnovers — unfortunately, they have slowed the unit down this season. The veteran defensemen have limited the team from effectively transitioning to offense following a turnover, whereas Aho adds that dimension to the Islanders.
Likewise, the Islanders have seen 23-year-old forward Kieffer Bellows start to establish himself as a regular in the forward unit. He scored only one goal and added an assist in the five games, but has been creating scoring chances on the wing and constantly powers to the net, pressuring opposing defenses. In a rough season for the Islanders, the young players have stepped up and proven they can contribute to the roster on a nightly basis. As the season progresses, head coach Barry Trotz must give the younger skaters — the ones that have lifted the team — more ice time and greater roles on the roster, not just for this season but to see what the team will look like for years ahead.
Ilya Sorokin has started a plethora of the Islanders games this season. Following the game against the Avalanche, Sorokin has started 36 of the team’s 50 games, a strong contrast from the 21 games started last season for the young goaltender. The continuous pressure has started to take its toll on the 26-year-old goaltender, who has allowed three goals or more in six of his starts since the return from the All-Star Break.
However, after getting the night off with Semyon Varlamov starting against the Kings, Sorokin stepped up and put together one of his best performances of the season. The Anaheim Ducks generated 34 shots on the goal, but Sorokin carried the Islanders and put together his fifth shutout of the season. The well-rested goaltender was ready for the Ducks’ offense, being sharp and focused in the net to lead the 4-0 victory.
While Varlamov struggled in his return, allowing four goals to the Kings on 34 shots in the 5-2 loss, the veteran goaltender must start more games in the net. The Islanders need to keep Sorokin well-rested and split starts between the two goaltenders, especially if the team hopes to make a push for the playoffs.
Dobson & Play From the Point
Noah Dobson has already emerged as the Islanders’ best scoring defenseman this season at 22 years old, with incredible play from the blue line. The young defenseman leads the defensive unit in goals with nine and assists with 17 on the season. On the road trip, Dobson added a goal and three assists and continued to generate shots on net to create scoring chances for the Islanders, opening up the offense.
Along with Dobson, the Islanders have seen the rest of the defensive unit start to add to the offense, a unit that is only scoring 2.54 goals per game. Scott Mayfield has started to fire shots on the net or off the boards for quick rebounds while Ryan Pulock’s presence in the lineup is felt in all three zones, including at the blue line where he scored his first goal of the season against the Avalanche. The Islanders’ defensive unit has been integral to the team’s success in recent seasons and this season has been no exception.
Palmieri, Pageau & Parise
Kyle Palmieri has turned a corner on the season, scoring five goals in the last eight games after only scoring one goal in the first 29 games. However, the entire shift of veteran forwards with Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Zach Parise often playing alongside Palmieri, has started to impact the forward unit. The Islanders have struggled to find forward depth all season, but recently the veteran forwards have generated shots on net and maintained pressure in the offensive zone to find the back of the net. The Islanders finding success from the Pageau-led line is a pleasant surprise that could ultimately help the team rebound in an otherwise difficult season.
Other Notes From the Islanders Road Trip
The Islanders were playing arguably one of their best games this season and looked poised to cap off the road trip with a statement victory. The team held a 3-2 lead in the final period of play against arguably the best team in the NHL in the Avalanche without Mathew Barzal, one of the best players on the Islanders. Unfortunately, a few tough plays allowed the Avalanche to take the lead and put the game out of reach, a reminder of the tough bounces that can decide close games.
The Islanders will return to UBS Arena for a six-game homestand. With the trade deadline approaching, the team will need to start to pile on the wins at home to turn around the season — otherwise, the organization might be looking at trading some of their veteran players like Josh Bailey, Cal Clutterbuck, and Varlamov.
Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November 2020 and covers the New York Islanders. In addition to covering the Islanders, Fink has written for multiple sports blogs and platforms covering the NHL, NFL, MLB, and college sports. Follow Mike on Twitter @Finks_thoughts for more Islanders and general hockey insights.