The New York Islanders have had a very trying start to the 2021-22 NHL season. Between starting the season on a 13-game road trip, being without their No. 1 goalie from last season for the first few weeks, and now being decimated by COVID, the team has had their share of obstacles. They currently find themselves in the midst of an eight-game losing streak in which they’ve lost all eight in regulation. Their defense has suffered a noticeable drop-off from just a season ago, and multiple key players are suffering droughts offensively. The silver lining is that there is still time for the Islanders to salvage the season, but time is running out. So, what can the team do to turn things around?
Offensive Line Adjustments
The Islanders are in a state of desperation to find production offensively. Seventeen games into the season, they have only scored 32 goals. That number puts them in last place in that category in the Metropolitan Division with the next lowest-scoring team being the Philadelphia Flyers, with 47 goals scored in 18 games played. Head coach Barry Trotz has been struggling, trying to tweak the line combinations in order to get the team out of their funk, but then the outbreak of COVID within the organization hindered those experiments. When the team is finally able to return to the ice, Trotz needs to put his focus on getting his goal scorers going.
Kyle Palmieri is a guy that the team should be able to rely on to get 40 points in an 82-game season. He is talented enough to be a top-line player and would be able to take some pressure off of Mathew Barzal. Barzal is undoubtedly the Islanders’ best player, but the lack of firepower around him has him constantly trying to overcompensate, which ultimately limits him as a player. A top line of Palmieri, Barzal and Anders Lee could help unlock more production from them all. That would be a very top-heavy attack, but sprinkling the best offensive weapons on different lines has not proven to be an effective scheme.
Defensive Trade Target
The Islanders’ blueliners have been very subpar this season. Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock have been the team’s most consistent defensive pairing for the past few seasons, but much like the talent offensively, the poor defensive play has forced Trotz to split his best pair. New York’s fortune went from bad to worse when Pulock suffered a lower-body injury last week that will sideline him for 4-6 weeks. With what Trotz currently has at his disposal, there is no easy solution to the recent woes.
#Isles Injury Update: Ryan Pulock is out 4-6 weeks with a lower body injury.— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) November 17, 2021
There are some viable options around the league for the Islanders in the form of a trade. One name that really sticks out to me is Ben Chiarot from the Montreal Canadiens. Montreal may be the only team in the league that has had a more disappointing start than the Islanders and will likely be looking to make some personnel changes in an effort to turn things around.
This move really depends on how quickly the Islanders believe that they can right the ship. Chiarot is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent after this season, so he would likely be a short-term solution. He is not quite the level of player one would ideally have on the top defensive pair, but he could help bolster the second or third pair, especially after Pulock returns from injury.
Islanders’ COVID Shutdown
Kristen Shilton of ESPN reported that the Islanders will not be playing games until at least Nov. 30 due to the current outbreak of COVID-19. Casey Cizikas was the eighth and most recent player on the team who tested positive for COVID and was the final straw for the NHL to step in and take action.
This decision was long overdue for the NHL, but it may help the team regroup and put their recent struggles aside. It will take some time for the entire team to clear protocol, but this gives them a chance to rest, recover, and hopefully come back with a fresh mindset and fresh legs.
Defensive & Offensive Outline for Change
The Islanders had a very trying month, but they have options to help solve their problems. Offensively, they are talented enough to produce goals, but they need their goal scorers to find a rhythm. Defensively, Pulock needs to get back on the ice, but I still believe the team needs to find another piece via trade. It is early in the season, but the Metro Division is not going to wait for the Isles to solve their issues. It is arguably the most competitive division in the NHL and the Islanders are quickly falling behind.
I am 24 years old, born and raised in South Florida. I cover the New York Islanders for THW but I also follow football, basketball, baseball, and golf. I have been around sports my entire life, whether it be playing or watching. When I am not watching sports, I like to spend my free time playing golf and fishing. I am a very passionate sports fan and I discovered that writing gives me an outlet to voice my thoughts and opinions on the things I am most passionate about. About five years ago, I started to follow the NHL during the Stanley Cup Playoffs and ever since then, I have been hooked.