The New York Islanders lost to the Carolina Hurricanes 5-2 in the second game of a back-to-back. With the recent loss, the Islanders fall to 35-34-10 on the season and have lost five games in a row, the longest losing streak since the team lost 11 games earlier in the season.
At the trade deadline, the Islanders were on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture looking in, but the front office remained quiet at the deadline, failing to make a big move. General manager Lou Lamoriello signaled confidence in the roster and hoped the team would remain competitive throughout the remainder of the regular season.
But since then, the Islanders were eliminated from the playoffs after their 4-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. They’ve bottomed out in the process, earning only one point in their last five games and having been outscored 23-12. The season unraveling is concerning but not a surprise considering the current state of the roster.
Islanders Lines in a Blender
Since the Maple Leafs eliminated the Islanders from contention, head coach Barry Trotz has mixed up the forward lines, playing different line combinations on a game-to-game basis. Mathew Barzal has played alongside both Kyle Palmieri and Zach Parise, while Oliver Wahlstrom has played on the same shift as Kieffer Bellows, only to play on the same shift as Anders Lee in another game. The Islanders turned their offense around since the start of the season largely because of the consistency of the forward lines, notably with Lee and Brock Nelson playing together. However, the recent games have prompted the team to call up some of their younger skaters and mix up some of the line combinations.
While the Islanders could find another scoring duo in the final handful of games, the line changes have ultimately backfired. The forward unit and the offense altogether have struggled with the skaters failing to gel with sudden changes. With the Islanders out of playoff contention, this is a perfect time to experiment, but as a result, the team has only scored 12 goals in the last five games, with two goals or fewer in three of the losses.
Islanders Injuries Are Piling Up
During the 11-game losing streak early on in the season, the Islanders dealt with their first wave of injuries. The COVID-19 outbreak that affected the roster, the four-week lower-body injury to Nelson, and the 11-week lower-body injury to Ryan Pulock led to the team starting the season with only five wins in their first 20 games. Ultimately, the slow start caused the season to unravel, as they never recovered, and the injuries were a major factor.
During the second half of the season, the Islanders had a healthy roster and rebounded, winning 19 games since the All-Star break. However, the injuries have started to once again affect the roster. Fourth line forward Cal Clutterbuck and defenseman Scott Mayfield have been out of the lineup for multiple weeks, and recently, the team has started to struggle with their lower forward lines and defensive pairings. They recently lost forwards Anthony Beauvillier and Jean-Gabriel Pageau, and without the two pivotal forwards in the lineup, the team has fallen apart.
The pile-up of injuries has started to get to the Islanders, a team that heavily relies on its depth and is playing without some of their key depth skaters. Combined with them being eliminated from playoff contention, the team looks defeated, and the results have shown in the five consecutive losses.
Why Islanders’ Losses Aren’t Concerning
The plethora of losses to close out the season isn’t ideal, to say the least. However, the Islanders are already looking ahead to next season, from the players to the front office. This is a team that reached the Stanley Cup Semifinal in consecutive seasons. And under Trotz, they have a competitive roster, even in a season where everything went against the Islanders.
The Islanders are expected to return to form and possibly add a few star-caliber players in the offseason as well. The team is built to compete for a Stanley Cup with a talented veteran presence in every unit, and the front office will only look to upgrade the roster once the season ends.
Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November 2020 and covers the New York Islanders. In addition to covering the Islanders, Fink has written for multiple sports blogs and platforms covering the NHL, NFL, MLB, and college sports. Follow Mike on Twitter @Finks_thoughts for more Islanders and general hockey insights.