The New York Islanders started their three-game road trip with a 3-2 loss to the Dallas Stars. After winning four games in a row, the Islanders struggled in all three zones and lost to a Stars team that is fighting for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
The Islanders entered the game hopeful of a push for the playoffs, especially after four wins against Metropolitan Division opponents. With the loss, the team boasts a 32-28-9 record and trails the Washington Capitals by 11 points for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. Moreover, the recent loss continued to reveal some of the underlying weaknesses that have cost the Islanders all season long.
Islanders Struggle in the Defensive Zone
The Islanders were outshot in the game 40-21 and only managed 10 shots on goal in the first two periods. The Stars’ defense managed to control the puck and limit the offense from finding a rhythm but the Islanders were their own worst enemy and forced Semyon Varlamov to make 37 saves to keep the game close.
The Islanders’ defense put together another strong performance, forcing turnovers and limiting open shots on the net. However, an inability to clear the puck out of the zone was the defense’s undoing once again. The defensive unit would create a turnover but once the puck was controlled by the Islanders, the Stars would quickly regain possession off of poor passes. Throughout the season, the bottom pairings have struggled to effectively handle the puck and that weakness cost them again in this game.
Islanders Hit a Wall in Oettinger
The Islanders turned up the pressure in the final period of play and not only kept the puck in the offensive zone but also created great scoring opportunities. The team was trailing by one goal but had the players on the ice to force overtime and earn a point but failed to tie the game. The Islanders’ offense has stepped up in recent games but the Stars’ 23-year-old goaltender Jake Oettinger stepped up in the net and put together another remarkable performance, highlighted by a shoulder save in the final minutes off a Mathew Barzal shot from the faceoff circle. Oettinger stopped 19 shots and allowed two goals on an odd-man rush but otherwise was focused in the net and helped seal the victory for the Stars.
Dobson’s Big Night
One of the bright spots for the Islanders was the continued great play from their young defenseman Noah Dobson. The 22-year-old defenseman stepped up in all three zones and helped create two goals with excellent passes that hit the Islanders’ skaters in stride. The two assists gave him 10 goals and 30 assists on the season and further cemented his status as the team’s top-scoring defenseman with great shots from the point and puck movement across the ice.
Against the Stars, however, Dobson’s best play oddly enough didn’t result in a goal and didn’t even change the outcome of the game. With the net empty for the Islanders, he was the only skater back as the Stars were looking to cap off the game with a quick goal, but the young defenseman read the play and blocked the shot, keeping the score at 3-2. The blocked shot was another example of how the 22-year-old has progressed into a talented defenseman that will give the Islanders speed and strong performances for years to come.
Other Notes from The Islanders Loss
Early in the game, center Jean-Gabriel Pageau found the back of the net with a top-shelf shot for his 14th goal of the season. Building off the hat trick against the Devils in a 4-3 victory, he created an open shot with a burst of speed in the neutral zone that helped bring the Islanders back into the game after they allowed an early goal. The Islanders will look to bounce back in their next two games but it will be a tall task, to say the least. The next two games will be on the road against the Carolina Hurricanes and the St. Louis Blues, two of the best teams in the NHL.
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.