Islanders Need Contributions From the Blue Line

After the New York Islanders were unable to take down the Washington Capitals in any of this season’s first three meetings, they finally avenged themselves with a barn-burning 8-4 victory on April Fools Day at Nassau Coliseum. This game also kicked off their 6-game homestand, a defining moment for the season that’s been unpredictable from the start, especially in the goal-scoring department. If they want to make a serious run this season, they’ll need more from their blue line in addition to a fired-up offense.

Offense Ignited?

The four goals against were uncharacteristic of a stingy Isles squad, but the good news is, they may have found their scoring touch, led by superstar Mathew Barzal. From the very start of the season, we’ve seen him score some serious highlight-reel goals. What’s more important is he’s scoring in a variety of ways and has clearly found his confidence when carrying the puck with an eye towards the goal. His first of the evening, which looked a lot like his opening-night goal when he undressed a New York Rangers defenseman who shall not be named, showed his superstar ability coming into form.

Barzal wasn’t the only one who found their touch this game, with Jordan Eberle, who has nearly matched his goal total from last season in 21 fewer games, picking up two goals along with contributions from Casey Cizikas, Brock Nelson, and Josh Bailey. This was a welcome change for the Islanders. Oliver Wahlstrom and J.G. Pageau, alongside a random assortment of left wingers, had been willing the team’s limping offense through stretches of March despite the team’s winning ways.

However, as I wrote about last month, the need for consistency remains even as the Islanders are sitting with a solid chance to make the playoffs at the moment. The Anders Lee injury certainly exacerbated their issues with offensive depth, but games like those against the Capitals, and their 6-1 victory against the Philadelphia Flyers just a handful of games ago, shows they’re capable of some serious offense but lack the ability to do it on a regular basis. No one expects four or more goals a game from a defense-first Islanders’ squad, though it would be nice to see 3-plus per game for a stretch against teams in playoff position. The clock is clicking for general manager, Lou Lamoriello, to make a move before the deadline, as difficult as that may be.

Blue Line Contributions

Aside from a trade, one potential source of offensive help that would also create some consistency is help from the blue line. Last season, Islanders defensemen accounted for 29 of 189 goals; that’s 15.34 percent of the team’s goal scoring. This season? Nine of 112 — just 8.03 percent. Granted, the team lost offensive defenseman, Devon Toews, during the offseason due to salary cap issues, but a near 50 percent drop in scoring from the blue line points to a problem beyond one player’s contributions.

Ryan Pulock New York Islanders
Ryan Pulock, New York Islanders (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Ryan Pulock remains one of the curious focal points for this analysis. In each of the last three seasons, he’s scored 10, nine, and 10 goals, respectively. Over that same period, he’s attempted well over 300 shots a season, hitting the net between 160 and 185 times with a shooting percentage between five and six.

This season, his shot total is where you would expect with a little more than half the games played vs last season — 79 shots (2020-21) and 163 shots in 2019-20. However, despite being on pace to match his shot total from last season, it’s the total shots attempted that may be a clue into his low goal totals. So far this season, Pulock has attempted just 151 shots on goal. Taking his shots per game, around four, into consideration for the remaining 21 games, he’ll be sitting at 236-7 shot attempts by season’s end, a 33 percent drop. While he’s having an unbelievable defensive season — the best of his career — the Islanders desperately need the floodgates to open, especially as the playoffs inch closer every day. (All stats vs Hockey Reference.)

The Islanders continue their homestand tonight against the Flyers during a critical point in their season. They’ve exceled at home so far — 14-1-2 — and need to build momentum. However, a big part of that success depends on the team’s ability to consistently find the back of the net. Even with the trade deadline looming, if the Islanders’ defense can begin to contribute in the offensive zone, they’ll be in a good position come the postseason.

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