The New York Islanders returned to the ice for the first time since the Dec. 19 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights with a 4-1 win on Thursday against the Buffalo Sabres, followed by a 3-2 overtime victory on New Year’s Day against the Edmonton Oilers. The consecutive wins at UBS Arena allowed the Islanders to continue to climb out of last place in the Metropolitan Division, but more importantly displayed how the team will find success in the second half of the 2021-22 season.
The Islanders now have 10 wins in 28 games played and interestingly, won’t play another game until Jan. 13 against the New Jersey Devils. The team remains in last place in the division but is within striking distance of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Islanders have proven in the recent games that they can make a playoff push and have the blueprint in place to find success regardless of the opponent on the schedule.
Anders Lee Continues to Find His Spot
Anders Lee knows where he can and will find the back of the net. With 10 goals on the season, the captain is now tied with Brock Nelson for the most goals on the Islanders’ roster, adding two goals in the last two games. Lee particularly has a keen eye for finding loose pucks near the net or in the center of the offensive zone and finishing off the scoring chance.
The recent goals both came near the net with an incredible backhanded goal to the top shelf against the Sabres and a rebounded puck to the back of the net off of a Kieffer Bellows shot against the Oilers. Both goals displayed the ability for the Islanders’ forwards to open up the defense, with great shots on the net and puck movement in the offensive zone but both goals required the front net presence of a veteran forward like Lee.
Last season, the Islanders saw the offensive production fall off late in the season following the injury to Lee, putting him on the long-term injury list. Top-line forward Mathew Barzal created space in the offensive zone for open shots but unfortunately, there wasn’t a forward who could take advantage, especially near the net. With Lee back in the lineup and starting to hit his stride, the offense is collectively taking off, scoring seven goals in the last two games and three goals or more in seven of the last eight games.
Noah Dobson’s Two-Way Play
Noah Dobson has been one of the best defensemen on the Islanders roster this season with 1.8 defensive point shares and 54 blocked shots on the defensive end of the ice. Moreover, Dobson along with Adam Pelech has provided speed to the defensive unit, which has limited opposing forwards on the odd-man rush while also helping the Islanders transition from defense to offense.
The recent games, however, have shown Dobson’s great play offensively, especially from the point. Dobson scored a goal on a shot from the point against the Sabres while also distributing an assist in the game and added a goal and an assist against the Oilers, giving the young defenseman five goals and nine assists on the season, both of which lead the Islanders’ defensive unit.
The goal against the Oilers stood out as it not only won the game in overtime but displayed Dobson’s great play across the ice. Dobson carried the puck into the offensive zone and fired a quick wrist shot past Oilers goaltender Mikko Koskinen’s right pad to seal the victory. The incredible play in all three zones is allowing the Islanders to turn a corner on the season and rebound from the slow start and Dobson will remain a pivotal part of the team’s success in the back half of this season and many years to come.
Islanders Goaltending Duo Stands Out
Throughout this season, the Islanders have been carried by their goaltending duo of Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin and the consecutive wins were no exception. Against the Sabres, Varlamov saved 36 of the 37 shots and eliminated a struggling offense following an early first-period goal. Sorokin started the following game against a potent Oilers offense that is averaging 3.38 goals per game and saved 17 of the 19 shots with both goals coming off re-directed pucks near the net. The Islanders’ goaltending duo has arguably been the best unit on the roster and continues to lead the way in the team’s success with both goaltenders rotating starts in the net and providing strong starts on a nightly basis.
Other Notes from the Islanders’ Victories
The game against the Oilers was a great performance from the defensive unit, not only because the Islanders held the potent offense to only two goals but the ability to limit the offense on the odd-man rush. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are two of the best skaters in the NHL and can gash any defense for a quick goal on the rush with their speed but the Islanders defensemen, highlighted by Dobson, Pelech, and Scott Mayfield, constantly forced turnovers at the blue line and kept the top scorers in check.
The Islanders’ recent homestand gave the team two much-needed wins as they won’t play another game in the next week. The team has only played 28 games and will have a tough road ahead with plenty of games to play in the upcoming months. However, the Islanders have turned a corner with the recent victories and look poised to string together plenty of wins as the season progresses.
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Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November 2020 and covers the New York Islanders. In addition to covering the Islanders, Fink writes about the NHL at large and contributes as a weekly guest to The Hockey Writers Podcast. Follow Mike on Twitter @Finks_thoughts for more Islanders and general hockey insights.