After defeating the Montreal Canadiens 3-0 on Friday night, the New York Islanders looked to carry the momentum in their Canadian road trip and avoid the season sweep in their final matchup against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Unfortunately, despite building a 2-1 lead early on in the second period, the Maple Leafs scored three unanswered goals and won the game 4-2.
With the recent 4-2 loss, the Islanders’ record dropped to 35-31-9 and they were officially eliminated from the playoffs. It was also a grim reminder of why they aren’t a playoff-caliber team for the first time in head coach Barry Trotz’s tenure.
Islanders’ Defensive Struggles
The Islanders’ defensive unit has struggled in recent games, allowing four goals or more in four of the last five games. Throughout the season, the defense has carried the team but with Scott Mayfield out of the lineup, the weaknesses have been exposed. Against the Maple Leafs, the defense allowed four goals, one of which was in the final seconds on an empty net but otherwise, the goals allowed displayed some of the struggles that have hurt the Islanders recently and throughout the season.
The first goal was scored by Mitch Marner on a misplayed puck in the defensive zone, an issue that has plagued the Islanders all season. The subsequent goal, which fueled three consecutive goals for the Maple Leafs, was a costly turnover that set up an odd-man rush where Pierre Engvall caught Ilya Sorokin out of position. The Maple Leafs willingly carrying the puck through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone was a reminder of why the Islanders miss a strong skating defenseman like Mayfield who could keep up with opposing forwards.
Sorokin Keeps Game Close
Sorokin started for the fourth game in a row for the Islanders and was building off a remarkable 44-save shutout against the Montreal Canadiens. While he allowed three goals and lost his 16th game of the season, the game was another reminder of the incredible play of the Islanders goaltender and how the 26-year-old goaltender provides stability in the net for the team.
Sorokin faced 36 shots from the Maple Leafs and had to make plenty of big saves against an opposing offense that displayed great puck movement throughout the game. The young goaltender made 33 saves and provided another highlight-reel save late in the game, finding a blocker on a Wayne Simmonds shot near the net. Sorokin didn’t carry the team to a victory but once again, as he has throughout the season, helped keep the game close. The 26-year-old has already established himself as one of the best young goaltenders in the NHL and looks to be a crucial part of the team’s success moving forward.
Beauvillier Finally Finds Back of the Net
It’s been a rough season for Anthony Beauvillier. After scoring 15 goals in 47 regular-season games last season, the 24-year-old forward was expected to play a major role in the Islanders’ offense in 2021-22. However, he took a big step back, scoring only 12 goals and 21 assists and oftentimes struggling with the puck in the offensive zone.
In the first period with the Islanders on the power play, Beauvillier found an open shot near the net. With Maple Leafs’ goaltender Jack Campbell exposing the top part of the goal, the young forward elevated the puck and scored his 12th goal of the season. Beauvillier scored his first in 10 games and at the end of a difficult season, it was a pleasant surprise and a promising sign for the Islanders to see the skater on the scoresheet.
Other Notes From Islanders’ Loss
Along with Beauvillier finding the back of the net, veteran forward Josh Bailey scored his 11th goal of the season. Bailey has played a different role in the Islanders’ forward unit since moving to the same line as Jean-Gabriel Pageau, finding more open shots in the offensive zone and as a result, has found the back of the net more often in recent games.
The Islanders’ next two games are at home against the Florida Panthers and the New York Rangers, two of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. With the schedule providing multiple challenging games and the team officially eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it’s possible they could unravel to end the season. However, they hope to finish strong, and playing competitive hockey is what Lou Lamoriello and the front office will look for in the final few games.
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.