The New York Islanders 2021-22 season has already been a long one for the players, coaches, and fans alike. The tough road trip to start the season, the COVID-19 outbreak within the roster that resulted in an 11-game losing streak, and the postponed games. To top it all off, once the Islanders started to gain their footing with the recent wins, the NHL postponed a few crucial games that could help them get back on track, notably the home game against the Montreal Canadiens scheduled for December 20th.
Islanders fans largely wish for better luck with 26 games played and 52 games remaining this season. However, there are also specific wish list items that hopefully can be fulfilled and help the Islanders rebound from a slow start where they have only won eight of their 26 games.
Speed At the Blue Line Alongside Dobson
Early on this year, it was clear that the defensive unit was going to be slower than last season, trading Nick Leddy in the offseason and acquiring veteran Zdeno Chara. Moreover, the defensive unit lost one of their best two-way defensemen in Ryan Pulock who is on injured reserve.
22-year-old Noah Dobson, however, has emerged as one of the best defensemen on the team, especially on the offensive end of the ice. Dobson’s speed and play-making ability have allowed him to contribute 1.2 defensive point shares and 49 blocked shots on the defensive end of the ice while also adding three goals and six assists to the offense. Unfortunately for the Islanders, the promising young defenseman is forced to play alongside Chara, who slows down the team’s production from the blue line and limits the offense from the point.
Another fast skating two-way defensemen to play alongside Dobson will help the Islanders transition to offense more effectively and also create open ice for the forward in the offensive zone. Both Robin Salo and Sebastian Aho have shown flashes in the few games they have played but another proven defenseman that can impact both ends of the ice with speed skating will compliment Dobson’s skillset and put the Islanders’ defense over the top.
The Islanders could acquire a defenseman if they want to make a push for the playoffs and beyond. Likewise, the defensive unit can and will improve when Pulock returns to the lineup and become a faster unit altogether. However, the right pairing for Dobson is the ideal piece in the defensive unit.
Pageau & Later Line Scoring
The Islanders’ offense has struggled this season, scoring only 2.19 goals per game. While the offense was starting to find the back of the net in the recent games prior to the break, scoring three goals or more in the five the last six games, the forward unit has failed to establish a scoring presence, especially in the later shifts with only six skaters scoring five goals or more.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who leads one of the forward shifts has scored five goals and also added five assists. At the beginning of the season, Pageau along with his shift struggled to find the back of the net, heating up recently with two of the 29-year-old center’s goals being scored in the last four games.
The hope is that when the Islanders return to action, that Pageau can continue to create scoring opportunities in the offensive zone. Along with Pageau, the Islanders will need veteran forwards Kyle Palmieri and Zach Parise, who have only combined for two goals to step up if the team hopes to make up ground in the Metropolitan Division. Palmieri and Parise have been creating chances in the offensive zone and have helped open up ice for other skaters on the team, combining for 11 assists, but their scoring presence will ultimately put the forward unit and team over the top.
More Minutes For Wahlstrom
Oliver Wahlstrom has emerged as one of the best scorers on the Islanders forward unit and a crucial part of the team’s offensive success, scoring eight goals while also adding seven assists. The 21-year-old forward particularly has used his accurate shooting to find his spot in the offensive zone and wait for the play to develop, oftentimes allowing him to find an open shot near the faceoff circles. Moreover, Wahlstrom has excelled on the power play with the open ice allowing him to find the back of the net four times this season, the most among Islanders skaters.
Considering Wahlstrom has established himself as one of the best young players on the Islanders, it’s surprising that Trotz has limited his ice time. Wahlstrom averages 13:14 ice time per game which is in the same range as a forward on the third or fourth line and more minutes for one of the team’s best scorers is necessary for the team’s success in the remainder of the season.
Wahlstrom can and should play top-six forward minutes and a more consequential role for the Islanders. Playing alongside Anders Lee and Mathew Barzal on the top line would allow the 21-year-old forward to continue to find the back of the net and take advantage of his skillset. With Barzal opening up the ice with speed and quick movement in the offensive zone and Lee drawing opponents in the center of the ice, Wahlstrom can find open shots on the other end of the ice and also create scoring chances with quick passes to the Islanders skaters, further opening up the offense.
Other Islanders Wish List Requests
The Islanders hoping for a healthy roster, returning impact players like Pulock, who has been out of the lineup with a lower-body injury, and Barzal who was recently placed on the COVID-19 list. Likewise, the Islanders experienced the COVID-19 outbreak earlier in the season but with the league postponing games from December 22nd until December 27th, hockey fans are hoping that there will be a strong return to the ice.
Islanders fans are also hoping that when the team returns to action, the team can make a push for the playoffs. After a slow start to the season, the Islanders finally have the pieces in place to string together multiple wins and surpass multiple teams in the division and in the Eastern Conference. Moreover, the ultimate wish is a Stanley Cup run and with the team reaching the Semifinal in back-to-back seasons, this could be the year they finally get over the hump.
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.