The New York Islanders defeated the Dallas Stars on Saturday, 4-2, in a dominant performance to extend their point streak to five games. That’s where it ended, though, as they fell flat the very next night against a last-place Philadelphia Flyers team, losing 2-1.
The Islanders splitting consecutive games isn’t great for a team eagerly trying to make up ground in the Metropolitan Division and make a late-season push for the playoffs. However, until the loss to the Flyers, the Islanders were on a hot streak that allowed them to climb back into the playoff picture, and possibly approach the trade deadline differently as a result.
Brock Nelson’s Hat Trick
Brock Nelson led the scoring for the Islanders in a three-goal third period that helped seal the 4-2 victory. The first two goals, in particular, displayed the veteran forward’s ability to generate scoring opportunities in the neutral zone and finish off scoring chances with great shots near the net. Nelson scored an empty-net goal to cap off the hat trick, but the Islanders’ top goal scorer made his mark in another game, and led the offense for a team that has otherwise struggled offensively.
Nelson now has a team-leading 27 goals on the season with eight goals in the last nine games. Along with captain Anders Lee, who scored a hat trick earlier in the month himself, the 31-year-old forward carried the offense in the recent stretch of games. Nelson throughout the season has impacted all three zones and the hat trick was a culmination of another impressive season for the Islanders top scorer.
Islanders Slow Offensive Zone Movement
The Islanders’ loss against the Flyers was arguably the worst offensive performance from the team since the Feb. 2 loss to the Seattle Kraken, which was a 3-0 shutout defeat. The forward unit looked tired and more importantly, struggled to effectively carry the puck into the offensive zone or create open shots with strong puck movement. The Islanders were constantly outskated to the puck by the Flyers, and failed to establish a strong offensive zone presence against a defense that has struggled all season and was sitting out Justin Braun for the game, anticipating a potential trade.
The hope for head coach Barry Trotz is that the Islanders’ forward unit simply was fatigued from playing five games in eight days. They scored three-or-more goals in six of their last eight games before falling apart against the Flyers, and the offense is expected to bounce back as a result. However, the recent game was a flashback to earlier in the season when the forward unit looked slow and puck movement was at a minimum.
The Islanders’ goaltending duo has carried the team throughout the season, and has allowed the team to start well-rested goaltenders in the recent stretch of games. Semyon Varlamov has been in multiple trade rumors ahead of the deadline, with the veteran goaltender likely providing the Islanders with a strong return for a team eager to acquire a Stanley Cup-caliber goaltender. However, the recent performance from Varlamov was a reminder of how crucial he is to the team’s success as the veteran goaltender saved 37 of the 39 shots in the 4-2 victory over the Stars.
While Ilya Sorokin received the loss in his recent start, allowing two goals in a 2-1 final, the young goaltender put together another strong performance in the net. Sorokin made 35 saves and built off his 30 save performance against the New York Rangers with plenty of big saves that often compensated for the errors by the defensive unit. The Islanders’ goaltending has given them a chance in plenty of games this season and if the team makes a push for the playoffs, the goaltending duo will be one of the units that will lead the way.
Other Takeaways In Islanders’ Back-To-Back Games
Against the Flyers, veteran forward Cal Clutterbuck and defenseman Andy Greene were healthy scratches. While both skaters are rumored to possibly be traded ahead of the trade deadline, Trotz wanted to give both skaters a day off. Clutterbuck notably can field a strong return for Lou Lamoriello and the front office but it’s likely the team will look to keep the veteran forward on their roster and the fourth line.
The next two games for the Islanders are at UBS Arena against the Ottawa Senators and the Detroit Red Wings. Both Atlantic Division opponents have struggled throughout the season and the Islanders will have to earn points in both games if the team hopes to continue to make their push for the playoffs.
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.