Islanders 2022-23 Opening Week: What to Watch For

The New York Islanders start the 2022-23 season on Oct. 13 against the Florida Panthers. The opening night game at UBS Arena will test the team, but along with the first game, there are a lot of questions about how they will look in the opening week of the season. This is an Islanders team that is not only looking to bounce back after missing the playoffs last year but is also looking to compete for the Stanley Cup, as they did in the 2020 and 2021 Playoffs, reaching the Stanley Cup Semifinal.

Related: Islanders 2022-23 Season Preview

The first week of the season has the Islanders playing four games, all of which are at home, against the Panthers, Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, and New Jersey Devils. The four games will not only force them to kick off the year running but also allow the fans to see how this team differentiates itself from last year’s roster. So, let’s look at some things that will be important in the first week of the season for the Islanders.

Can The Islanders Start Year Strong?

Last season, the slow start doomed the Islanders. After going 1-2-1 in the first week and 5-10-5 in the first 20 games, they couldn’t recover and despite playing well in the second half of the season, didn’t reach the playoffs. With the Metropolitan Division looking stronger this year along with the entire Eastern Conference, the Islanders can’t afford to fall behind.

The schedule has a fair share of difficult games. However, the Islanders have a prime opportunity to pile up a few wins within the first week. With all four games at home and three of the four against teams that missed the playoffs last season, they can string together multiple wins to not only jump to the top of the division but build momentum for a big year ahead.

Does Lambert Change Up the Forward Lines?

There are a lot of questions about how the Islanders will look under first-year head coach Lane Lambert, especially on the offensive end of the ice. Will the team play a faster style or look similar to the one that played under Barry Trotz, with an emphasis on defense and disciplined play? A lot of the curiosity surrounding Lambert involves the forward lines, specifically the top six, and within the first week of the season, the Islanders will provide a glimpse of what they will look like throughout the year.

Lambert changing the lines will have a lot to do with whether he wants to force center Mathew Barzal to play a faster style and lead a fast-paced line. If that’s the case, the Islanders could see Oliver Wahlstrom playing on the same line as Barzal, allowing two of the best young skaters on the team to play alongside each other. However, if Lambert would prefer more veteran and experienced players there, Kyle Palmieri or Zach Parise will likely play on the wing instead of him.

Mathew Barzal New York Islanders
Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Along with the questions surrounding the Barzal line, Lambert will have to figure out who plays with Brock Nelson, particularly, if Anders Lee will play on his wing. The two skaters were phenomenal alongside each other last year, forming the Islanders’ most productive line but the change halfway through the season was unconventional from Trotz. Nelson and Lee are two instinctive goal scorers that prefer to finish scoring chances rather than create them, yet the two skaters helped the offense turn around in the second half of last season. As a result, it’s likely Lambert will keep them on the same line but within the first few games, it would come as no surprise if he chooses to change it up.

Will the Defense Hold Up?

The Islanders’ defense has been their strongest unit in recent years and it looks to remain that way this season. Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock form a great top pairing, arguably one of the best in the NHL. Noah Dobson, who is coming off a breakout season, now has a young partner in offseason addition Alexander Romanov which gives the Islanders depth at the position. The question for the defense however ultimately lies outside of the top two pairings and how things will hold up in the depth of the unit.

Ryan Pulock New York Islanders
Ryan Pulock, New York Islanders (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Scott Mayfield is a reliable veteran defenseman but it’s unclear who will play alongside him to round out the unit. Robin Salo and Sebastian Aho are fighting for that final spot and by opening night, the Islanders will have found an answer for that spot on the roster. Between Salo and Aho, there’s no guarantee that the winner of the starting job on opening night will remain on the roster throughout the season but the first few games will provide a glimpse of what the optimal defense looks like for the full season.

Mayfield is the ideal partner for one of the younger skaters to play alongside as he can both mentor them and compensate for their shortcomings defensively, especially early on in the season. In the first few games, the Islanders might see struggles on the later pairings but ultimately, the hope is that the unit improves and helps lead the team back to the playoffs.

Islanders’ Measuring Stick Games

The Florida Panthers on opening night will allow the Islanders to see how they stack up against the elite teams in the Eastern Conference. Granted, they look like a different team this season after hiring Paul Maurice and acquiring Matthew Tkachuk in exchange for Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar. However, they won the Presidents’ Trophy last year with the best record in the NHL and return many of their key players including Anthony Duclair, Aleksander Barkov, and Aaron Ekblad. They will be an immediate test for the Islanders to see if they are contenders and ready to compete with the best in the league.

Anthony Duclair Florida Panthers
Anthony Duclair, Florida Panthers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Panthers will be the team to watch in the first week but it won’t be the only test for the Islanders. On Oct. 20, they face the New Jersey Devils, a team that they defeated three times last year but is one of the most improved teams in the Metropolitan Division. The Devils signed Ondrej Palat to a five-year deal in free agency and the young and talented roster looks to take a step forward this season, especially if their defensive prospects are ready to impact the NHL roster.

Other Things to Watch in Islanders’ Opening Week

The Anaheim Ducks and the San Jose Sharks are expected to improve from last season but they are both still rebuilding rosters. For the Islanders, the question is if they can defeat both teams and do so easily. The Panthers and Devils are tough matchups but for a successful season, the Islanders will have to easily beat their weaker opponents, making the Ducks and Sharks matchups two pivotal ones early on.

The other question in the opening week will be about goaltending. How will Ilya Sorokin look and can he build off a year where he was one of the best young goaltenders in the game? Semyon Varlamov meanwhile remains a reliable starter as well and it will be interesting to see how often he starts in the first week of action, whether he splits time with Sorokin or is in goal for the occasional game.

The Islanders’ season is almost here and the first week will be a small sample of what they can do this year. They had a quiet offseason but within a few games, they can prove that the roster in place is the one that can both lead them to the playoffs and a run at the Stanley Cup.

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