The New York Islanders just finished their first losing month under head coach Barry Trotz and the team has work to do in order to make the playoffs. They were the story of the NHL for much of the first two months of the season after their 10-game winning streak, 17-game point streak, and overtime heroics, but January tested the Islanders deeply.
In their 11 games, they had a 4-5-2 record. Their last game was on Jan. 21, they’ve had over a week to prepare for their next game, with their bye week coming right after the All-Star break.
“[The break] came at a good time,” said Brock Nelson. “We had played seven games in 11 days. I think that was the most a lot of the guys in here had played. There were a lot of emotional games. It was a good time to recharge and get ready for the stretch and we realize how much hockey we have left.”NHL.com
Power Play Struggles
There is no bigger concern right now than the the power play. While their play picked up after their historic pace in lack of penalties drawn, the results have not been much better.
Currently 19th in the league at 19.5 percent, the Islanders went 3-21 in the month of January; two of the three goals were scored in the final game of the month against the New York Rangers. Anders Lee only has one power-play goal this season, which has made other players, like Anthony Beauvillier and Josh Bailey, more depended on as teams focus on Mathew Barzal and Ryan Pulock.
It has also forced rookie Noah Dobson to play on the point on the second unit. While he may turn out to be a very solid defender, he was in and out of the lineup most of the first half of the season. He is just starting to get into a rhythm of playing every night with the injury to Adam Pelech. Derick Brassard has also struggled since his red-hot start to the season.
Struggles Against the Rangers
Regardless of the standings, any time the Islanders face the Rangers, the games feel more important. Unfortunately, the Islanders saw their crosstown rivals three times in a stretch of nine days and lost twice.
Making matters worse, Artemi Panarin, who took less money to play for the Rangers over the Islanders, had a five-point game in the Rangers’ 6-2 win on Jan. 13. The Islanders seemed to have won the rematch later that week, but took an ill-advised penalty and missed out on a point, losing in the final minute.
The Islanders then had their toughest loss of the season two days later, blowing a three-goal lead to the Washington Capitals to lose in regulation again. However, in their final game before the break, they earned their first win over the Rangers with Panarin out of the lineup. Those two points kept them in the third place in the Metropolitan Division, despite that the Rangers made it close after the Islanders had a 4-0 lead in the third period.
Resurgence of Jordan Eberle
The biggest storyline this month will be Jordan Eberle if he stays hot. The forward, who carried the Islanders to a first-round playoff win last April against the Pittsburgh Penguins, battled an early season injury and had scored only three goals heading into January.
In 11 games this month, Eberle scored four times and had seven points on a line with Barzal. He is also generating many more chances and has seen increased ice time as the first line improves. With Cal Clutterbuck out with an injury long-term and the struggles of the Islanders’ bottom six, they need Eberle to do his part down the stretch.
The Islanders will have a tough matchup with the Vancouver Canucks coming out of the break. The Canucks have outscored their opponents 8-3 in their last two games, both wins.
Following that, the Islanders will complete their longest remaining home-stand of the season with games against the Dallas Stars and Los Angeles Kings before hitting the road.