Islanders Weekly is my series that looks at the performance and outlook of the New York Islanders. Every Thursday, we will take a look at the week that was for the Islanders, highlighting key players and trends while looking at the road ahead.
Related: Last Week’s Islanders Weekly
The Islanders had a busy four-game week that included back-to-back road games against the Boston Bruins on Thursday and Friday. This was the first matchup the Isles have had with Boston since the B’s added Taylor Hall and several other depth pieces at the trade deadline. Hall and the Bruins had their way with the Isles in both contests, with New York mustering only one total goal. The Isles goaltenders split the two-game set, with Semyon Varlamov allowing three goals in a 4-1 Thursday loss before Ilya Sorokin allowed two as the Isles fell 3-0.
New York’s second-period marker against the Bruins on Thursday would be their only goal in a span of nearly eight full periods of play. This included the entirety of regulation against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday, where Sorokin and Brian Elliott kept everyone off the board for 60 minutes before a Nick Leddy fortuitous bounce ended the scoreless streak and gave his team a very important two points. This concluded the Isles’ season series with the Flyers, and Sunday’s game was the sixth that required overtime of the eight times they have matched up this season.
After scoring just two total goals in the previous three games, the Isles returned home to face a New York Rangers team whose confidence was off the charts after taking advantage of a depleted New Jersey Devils team in four consecutive matchups. In a sudden offensive explosion, the Islanders managed six goals, matching their total from their previous five games. The team didn’t appear to take their collective foot off the gas pedal, piling on three goals in the third period to put together a statement 6-1 win against their rival. The big win moved the Isles back into a first-place tie with the Washington Capitals, who they’ll face in each of their next three games.
This week perfectly summed up the Isles’ streaky scoring over the last stretch. After putting together two total goals in three games, they put up three goals in just the third period of the following game, chasing Igor Shesterkin for a career-high six goals against. After struggling to produce against the Bruins and Flyers earlier in the week, the lines against the Rangers featured some combinations that had not yet been seen.
With Josh Bailey returning from injury in Tuesday’s game, lineup changes were expected, but there was some movement that seemed to spark the scoring. Bailey remained on the opposite wing from Anthony Beauvillier, but instead of being centered by Brock Nelson, the duo had Jean-Gabriel Pageau taking their draws. Each member of this new line recorded a goal against the Rangers, and the trio combined for nine points. Nelson was given newcomer Kyle Palmieri and Michael Dal Colle on his wings, with the latter being added to the lineup at Oliver Wahlstrom’s expense. Further changes could be coming with critical games upcoming, but something about the line mixing seemed to pay off, at least initially.
Elite Goalie Tandem
Sorokin and Varlamov have turned into one of the NHL’s best goaltending duos in their first season sharing the crease in New York. Varlamov earned much of the work early in the season while his counterpart got acclimated to the rigors of the NHL, but duties these days are pretty much even. The early advantage lands Varlamov in the top-10 in the league in wins, while both goaltenders rank in the top-15 in save percentage and goals-against average.
Even during the stretches where the offense has struggled mightily, each goaltender gives the team a chance to win every night. With just one set of back-to-back games left on the regular-season schedule, many of the starter decisions may become matchup-based. This seemed to be the case of late, as Sorokin saw five straight starts against the Flyers, including four straight that saw him pick up victories in extra time. With the games more spread out to close the season, it will be interesting to monitor the workload split as the playoffs draw near.
Time to Capitalize
The Islanders have an opportunity to take tremendously important points away from the Capitals, who they are currently tied with atop the MassMutual East Division. After finishing their season series with the Pittsburgh Penguins at the end of March, the Caps remained as the biggest threat to the Isles, as they have struggled at times against the perennial Eastern Conference powerhouse. Washington made a splash of their own at the trade deadline, shipping out young winger Jakub Vrana along with other assets in exchange for another young winger in Anthony Mantha.
Despite the large return demanded by the Detroit Red Wings, the Capitals are reaping the early benefits of the trade. Through his first four games with his new team, Mantha has collected four goals and five points. He has found a role on Washington’s second line with elite center Nicklas Backstrom and winger T.J. Oshie and has already become a force on the team’s second power-play unit. With multiple lines now producing effectively, the Caps will be a tough test for the Isles down the stretch.
Top Performers and the Week Ahead
- Jordan Eberle: 1 goal, 3 assists
- Semyon Varlamov: 2 starts, 1 win, .943 SV%
- Ilya Sorokin: 2 starts, 1 win, .965 SV%, 1 shutout
The Week Ahead
- 4/22: vs Washington Capitals
- 4/24: vs Washington Capitals
- 4/27: at Washington Capitals
Covering the New York Islanders and Seattle Kraken for The Hockey Writers. MBA Sports & Entertainment Management Candidate at Hofstra University. Formerly Marketing Intern with the American Flag Football League & Operations Intern for the Long Island Nets, G-League Affiliate of the Brooklyn Nets.