The New York Islanders won back-to-back games on the road with a 3-0 victory over the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday and a 2-0 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights on Sunday. The win against the Coyotes was a necessity, facing a winless team that’s struggling to start the season. But defeating the Golden Knights on short rest — one of the best teams in the NHL — was a statement.
The Islanders have plenty of takeaways from the two wins to give them three on the season. They still have seven games on the road as part of a tough road trip, but they are now in the middle of a competitive Metropolitan Division instead of near the bottom.
Sorokin Facing a Heavy Workload, Unfazed
Ilya Sorokin has started every game for the Islanders this season while Semyon Varlamov recovers from injury. The defense has not helped out their 26-year-old goaltender, who has faced 209 shots, including 40-or-more in three of his six starts. Despite the high volume, he’s seemed unfazed, and after struggling in the first two games, he has been the main reason for the team’s success. That’s hardly a surprise, considering his back-to-back shutout victories and his .933 save percentage and 2.33 goals-against average.
The victory over the Golden Knights was Sorokin’s best performance of the season. He saved 42 shots and held a potent offense off the scoreboard. The game was a reminder that the Islanders have their future starting goaltender, who will split starts with Varlamov when he returns.
Islanders Continue Forward Line Shuffling
In the last two games, veteran forward Josh Bailey was moved up to the same line as Mathew Barzal and Anders Lee, while Kyle Palmieri was pushed down. Head coach Barry Trotz and his staff have been searching for formidable offensive line combinations, and Bailey found the back of the net against the Golden Knights playing on the top line. Barzal also scored in the game. It’s unlikely the lines will remain the same moving forward, and more adjustments will be made soon, but the Islanders have the talent up front to start finding the back of the net, but first, they have to match the right skillsets.
Islanders Power Play Continues To Struggle
The Islanders’ power play has struggled early on. In 16 opportunities, they only have two goals, and aside from Brock Nelson’s goal against the Coyotes, they continue to struggle. Part of the problem is the forward combinations but also their inability to generate offense from the point. Last season, defenseman Nick Leddy would often play the point and distribute passes to create scoring opportunities – 10 of his 29 assists came on the power play last season. Since he was traded in the offseason, the power play is still searching for a defenseman to fill that void.
Barzal & Clutterbuck Top-Shelf Goals
Against the Coyotes, Cal Clutterbuck netted his second goal of the season off on the odd-man rush and a shot to the top corner. His first goal of the season, against the Chicago Blackhawks, was also was aimed at the top of the net. He will have a breakout season if he continues to elevate the puck.
Similarly, Barzal found the back of the net in a decisive goal against the Golden Knights with a top-shelf shot that made the game 2-0. Even if it was a scouting tip to shoot high on Vegas goaltender Robin Lehner, Barzal scored his third goal of the season to lead the team’s forwards with Oliver Wahlstrom, who also has three.
Other Islanders Notes After Two Games
The Islanders continued their long and grueling road trip to start the 2021-22 season, and like some of the team’s earlier games, they’ve looked sloppy and have struggled at times. However, this road trip is going to be a grind, and there will be a lot of adjustments made by the coaching staff. The Islanders are built to improve in the back half of the season, and they will mature into a Stanley Cup contender, which they have been for the past two seasons.
Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November 2020 and covers the New York Islanders for The Hockey Writers, a team that has turned themselves into legitimate cup contenders with Barry Trotz as the head coach. In addition to covering the Islanders, Fink has written for multiple sports blogs and platforms covering the NHL, NFL, MLB and college sports.