The New York Islanders lost 3-2 in overtime to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday night. They will take the point but, four games into the season, they only have one win, and this game raised some questions and concerns.
The Blue Jackets can’t be counted out and should be a surprisingly good team in the Metropolitan Division this season. But the Islanders’ loss leaves head coach Barry Trotz with plenty of issues that need to be resolved. Here are three takeaways from last night’s game.
Islanders Forward Lines Continue to Struggle
Islanders captain Anders Lee returned to the lineup after missing the Chicago Blackhawks game with an illness, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau was a late scratch (also due to illness). However, the Isles could have used their middle line center as the forwards struggled against the Blue Jackets, scoring only once thanks to Mathew Barzal in the third period which tied the game.
The bottom six have been a liability this season, whereas it was a strength in 2020-21. Outside of the Barzal-Lee-Palmieri line, the Islanders only have six goals from their forwards, including three from 21-year-old Oliver Wahlstrom. The loss to the Blue Jackets was a reminder that the team needs Pageau’s playmaking ability at both ends of the ice and leaves many wondering if they will find goals from all four lines as they did last season.
Defense Didn’t Help Sorokin
The Islanders struggled to clear the puck out of the defensive zone throughout the game. The Blue Jackets forwards had a strong forecheck, and their defensemen played well. It didn’t help that the Islanders switched up their defensive pairings, with Ryan Pulock playing alongside Zdeno Chara and Adam Pelech playing with Scott Mayfield for most of the game, breaking up the Pelech and Pulock duo that fans have grown accustomed to.
Whether Trotz decides to stick with the recent defensive pairings is unclear. However, the Blue Jackets’ ability to keep the puck in the offensive zone forced Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin to have a great performance and keep the game tied. He saved 29 of the 32 shots and, for the third time this season, the defense allowed 30 shots or more on net.
The Offense Hit a Wall in Merzlikins
The Islanders managed 36 shots on the net in this game and had plenty of scoring chances. Unfortunately, the offense was facing a well-rested Elvis Merzlikins, who is having a great season for the Blue Jackets. Merzlikins saved 34 of 36 shots and has only allowed seven goals this season on 130 shots. It was a tough one for the Islanders’ offense, but it showcased Columbus’ 27-year-old goaltender, who might be having the best start of any goaltender in the NHL.
Islanders Positive Notes From The Game
The Islanders might have lost the game, but both teams played well, and either could have won. They know they can still rely on their top line to find offense, with Barzal scoring in the third period on an excellent top-shelf shot, and that line had 16 shots on goal. After Sorokin started another game, number one goaltender Semyon Varlamov will be well-rested and ready for the next game against the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday. He will be pivotal to the team’s success down the road.
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.