If you’ve watched the New York Islanders so far in April, you may be wondering where the defense-first, energetic team that went to the Eastern Conference Final last summer went. As of late, they’re not the group many Islander fans have come to know with a lot of inconsistent play as the postseason approaches.
The Bad & The Ugly
The Islanders’ lack of scoring is usually nothing to be too concerned about. Their strong defensive play gets them by in low-scoring games and, on a fairly regular basis, one line gets hot to buoy the rest of the team. March proved to be an uncharacteristic month for the Islanders. Mixed with their hallmark defense, they powered towards the top of the standings. However, with April behind the Islanders, they’re at a nexus with both of these important parts of their identity not aligning during their march towards the playoffs.
In March, the Islanders scored 50 goals in 15 games, about 3.33 goals per game – fairly high for what many deem a defense-first team. Though they played one less game in April, they’ve scored just 34 goals in 14 games, about 2.42 goals per game. Additionally, prior to April, the Islanders were shut out twice in January and managed to score at least one goal until April when they were shut out three times in six games, all to playoff-bound teams.
It’s clear the Islanders can score goals. They’ve scored three or more goals 29 times this season. This issue is, as of late, they haven’t played well against playoff-bound teams. Aside from them stealing a few wins from the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins along with their early season success against the Boston Bruins, their offense is not looking like a team ready for the playoffs. Since March 27, the Islanders are 2-6-1 against teams heading to the playoffs as of the time this article was published, scoring just 17 goals – including an eight-goal outburst on April 1 – in those 10 games.
What could really put this team over the edge is an awakening from deadline acquisition Kyle Palmieri and rookie Oliver Wahlstrom, the latter of which scored in the Islanders 4-0 victory over the Rangers. Scoring seems to come in waves from throughout the lineup, but the two of them would be a welcomed addition to even out the peaks and valleys of the Islanders’ offense. A bit of good news from the Islanders’ recent victory was Mathew Barzal scoring his first since his hat trick to start the month, 12 games ago. Leo Komarov also scored his first of the season.
Lastly, the Islanders’ fourth line has not been themselves as of late. Their energy is an important part of this team’s identity, and if they plan on making any sort of run in these playoffs, the line of Cal Clutterbuck, Casey Cizikas, and Matt Martin need to step up. When they’re playing well and contributing, even if it’s hard to measure at times, the team responds. When they’re running around, missing assignments, and unable to control the tempo of the game – an important part of the Islanders’ strategy – there’s a noticeable difference in the team’s game. Their ability to get back to their game will play a major role in the first round and beyond.
It’s not all doom and gloom on Long Island. Both Semyon Varlamov and rookie Ilya Sorokin continue to shine between the pipes. Even as the offense dried up and the skaters played questionably in all zones, the Islanders’ goaltenders have been fairly consistent. To close out April, Varlamov recorded his league-leading sixth shutout of the season. The Islanders have eight total shutouts this season.
The shutout epitomized both goalies’ role keeping the Islanders afloat in April. Despite the offensive output dropping close to 30 percent, the Russian-duo managed to be the consistency the Islanders needed. In 14 games in April, they allowed 30 goals compared to 35 goals in 15 games in March. It may be safe to say they were better in April than March, even with one less game played.
They weren’t perfect – who among us is? – and certainly had their fair share of clunkers throughout the season and April, but they’re the rock the team depends on. It’s also likely the team locks things down once the playoffs begin, playing closer to what we’re used to seeing.
The offense woke up against the New York Rangers to close out April, and the defense has allowed one goal in the last two games. Is this a sign of good things to come down the stretch? The Islanders need to put the pedal to the floor in May to close out the season and build momentum as the playoffs inch closer.
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