The New York Islanders are off to a poor start. With four wins in eight games — two against Western Conference teams with no playoff aspirations — they are near the bottom of the division with a tough stretch of games ahead. With a new coach and a mostly unchanged roster, fans are beginning to panic. But is it too early to do so?
Islanders vs. Elite Eastern Conference Teams
The Islanders began the season with Matthew Tkachuk making his Florida Panthers debut. Despite playing at home, they lost that game, 3-1. They put forward a good effort but never got their offense going when they were down by one. Outside of that game, their effort level has been questionable in every game against an Eastern Conference team.
The game against the New Jersey Devils last week was, according to head coach Lane Lambert, “extremely, extremely disappointing.” Then they spent the weekend in the Sunshine State. Saturday’s game (Oct. 22) against Tampa Bay was a little better, but the Lightning beat New York by a score of 5-3. In the rematch against the Panthers, they went down 2-0 in the first 10 minutes. Although they fought back and cut the deficit to one, their late push was not enough to tie the game, and they lost again, 3-2. Those four losses are a flashback to last season: the Islanders just don’t have the offensive firepower to break out of a scoring funk.
Healthy Scratch Decisions
The Panthers brought in Tkachuk to be “harder to play against,” as they say. The Islanders allowed him to get under their skin in post-whistle scrums in the first game and decided to dress Ross Johnston in the second. Anthony Beauvillier was benched, while Johnston put zero shots on goal, recorded a minus-1, and took a penalty. Lambert also benched Josh Bailey in the game against the Lightning, opting to play young forward Nikita Soshnikov, who was okay but didn’t have any offensive impact. These decisions scream panic from within the organization, which fans are not used to seeing from this regime.
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Under former head coach, Barry Trotz, the Islanders would more or less trot out the same lineup each night. Oliver Wahlstrom was the only player who was a healthy scratch on a regular basis last season. Even when they were out of the playoffs, Bailey and other forwards were thrown into the lineup. Now, just seven games into 2022-23, the new coaching staff has used several different lineups. In a lot of ways, this is a good thing. It has allowed Wahlstrom to get on a roll, while defensive pairings are being tested to see what works best. However, these benchings in favor of grit or simply a change are clear panic moves. Beauvillier and Bailey are certainly not the reasons the Islanders lost the games they played in. Lambert then rolled out a lineup with Beauvillier, Bailey, and Wahlstrom against the Rangers. They played one of their better games of the season and won 3-0.
Time for Islanders to Panic?
These moves, including placing Kieffer Bellows on waivers show that the organization is taking these early losses seriously (from ‘Islanders waive Kieffer Bellows to end lingering roster logjam’, New York Post, 10/26/22). After last season’s early swoon it was nearly impossible for the Islanders to recover and make the playoffs. Now, the front office is making the moves they did not make last season to try and get some confidence back into the locker room.
Wednesday’s victory against the Rangers and Hurricanes got them back to 4-4, but the tough road continues. With games against the Colorado Avalanche, Calgary Flames, St. Louis Blues, and the Rangers in the next two weeks, points are going to be hard to come by for a team that already finds itself behind the eightball in their division. It might be too early to panic, but the panic button is certainly nearby.
Past Experiences Lead to Current Reactions
Islanders fans are still scarred from 2021-22, a season that started with Stanley Cup aspirations and ended before Christmas. They lost every game between Nov. 7 to Dec. 5, including the UBS Arena opener. That put them at a 5-10-5 record, which dropped them out of the playoff picture. After last season’s early swoon kept them out of the playoffs, fans are wary of a repeat in 2022-23.
That being said, the Islanders will have to do better to keep pace in a very crowded Eastern Conference, as there are teams, like the Hurricanes, Boston Bruins, and Ottawa Senators, who are off to great starts. This start is nowhere near as bad as last season’s at this point, but they will need to get on a hot streak quickly if they hope to make the postseason in April.
My name is Chris Hennessy, welcome to my page! I am a recent graduate of Fordham University and WFUV where I covered the Islanders for the 2019-20 and 2021-22 seasons. The experience of being in the Coliseum and UBS ignited my love for storytelling, especially about my favorite team.