Islanders Weekly is my series that looks at the performance and outlook of the New York Islanders. Every Thursday, we will take a look at the week that was for the Islanders, highlighting key players and trends while looking at the road ahead.
Related: Last Week’s Islanders Weekly
New York had a four-game week, starting with a home-and-home set with the New York Rangers, before visiting the Buffalo Sabres for a back-to-back set. Semyon Varlamov got the start against the Rangers on Thursday and built on his personal shutout streak from a week prior with a full game shutout. The Islanders followed up Thursday’s 4-0 victory by starting Varlamov again on Saturday. The Rangers were once again held off the scoresheet, resulting in a 3-0 win for the Isles, enough to earn them an appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Islanders gave their Vezina contender his third straight start Monday, matching up against ECHL goalie Michael Houser in his NHL debut. Varlamov’s shutout streak reached 248 minutes before being broken by a Tage Thompson goal in the second period. That goal made the score 2-1, and the Isles eventually let their 2-0 lead go and fell 4-2 to the worst team in the NHL.
The teams went right back at it Tuesday night, this time with Ilya Sorokin between the pipes against Houser. After falling behind 1-0, New York jumped out to a 3-1 lead halfway through the second period after a Cal Clutterbuck shorthanded goal. The Isles once again let the lead go, and Houser picked up his second win in as many nights, this time in a shootout. New York earned just one point in two games against the Sabres and currently sit in the last playoff spot in the MassMutual East Division. They are one point behind the Boston Bruins, who have a game in hand and are the Isles’ last matchup before the playoffs begin.
Second Line Success
After being split up at certain points this season, Coach Trotz’s usual second line is back together and firing on all cylinders heading towards the playoffs. Center Brock Nelson now has both Josh Bailey and Anthony Beauvillier on his wings, and the production is reminiscent of their strong stretch in last year’s playoff run. In the four games this week, Bailey recorded 6 assists and Beauvillier scored four goals; all of Beauvillier’s goals were scored at even strength. The trio is providing much of the offense for an otherwise struggling group, and this trend will need to continue for any type of success to come with the team’s playoff berth.
With Mathew Barzal surprisingly being scratched for Tuesday’s loss, the Isles need their one consistent line to stay hot entering the final few games of the regular season. Barzal is not at risk of losing his spot in the lineup, but his play will need specific adjustments before the playoffs begin. With Leo Komarov and Matt Martin also watching from the press box Tuesday, the lines over the next few games will be very telling as to who might be on Barzal’s wing opposite Jordan Eberle for game one.
Varlamov’s Vezina Case
With the playoffs drawing near, trophy talk is heating up and Varlamov’s name should come up quite often in Vezina Trophy conversations. His shutout of the Rangers on Saturday gave him an NHL-leading seven on the season, and he is third in goals-against average and second in save percentage among goaltenders to appear in at least 11 games. Despite splitting time with a very capable partner in Sorokin, Varlamov is seventh in the NHL in wins with 19 wins in 34 appearances.
During stretches where the Islanders’ offense looked incapable of getting anything going, Varlamov was able to keep his team competitive in games they should’ve lost by wide margins. The Isles may opt to rest their workhorse in advance of the playoffs, where he should be expected to once again earn a bulk of the starts. He was phenomenal in last year’s playoffs, helping the Isles reach the Eastern Conference Finals after the season restarted in the Toronto bubble.
Blue Line Production
New York is enjoying more consistent offensive contributions from its defensemen of late. Aside from Nick Leddy, the blueliners in blue and orange have left much to be desired from an offensive standpoint while sticking to the system and ensuring sound play defensively. While the Sabres games did not go as planned, one positive was the increased offensive engagement from the team’s top pair of Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock. Both players were getting pucks towards the net and were rewarded with a combined two goals and three points in the two games.
Leddy’s play has also sparked the offensive side of his defensive partner Scott Mayfield, who added two assists to his total against the Rangers on Thursday. These two pairs and youngster Noah Dobson give the Isles five defensemen who would be on pace for 20 or more points over a full 82-game season. Continuing to get contributions from the back end, especially if some forwards go cold, could be a key factor to finding success in the playoffs.
Top Performers and the Week Ahead
- Anthony Beauvillier: four goals, one assist
- Josh Bailey: six assists
- Semyon Varlamov: three starts, two wins, .967 SV%
The Week Ahead
- 5/6: vs New Jersey Devils
- 5/8: vs New Jersey Devils
- 5/10: at Boston Bruins