Islanders’ Last Week Key to Season Success

The New York Islanders played a slew of games this week. In the dying seconds of the last game against the New York Rangers, the Islanders shot themselves in the foot and depressingly lost both matchups. Even though the Derick Brassard cross-checking penalty was a questionable call at best, the Isles should not have been in that position, to begin with.

Against the Washington Capitals, the Islanders were by far the better team but were unable to put the game away, and the Caps took advantage. With many important games played in the last seven days, what did this last week mean for the Islanders?

Special Teams

Against the Rangers on Thursday night, special teams cost the Islanders a win (from ‘Isles must overcome power-play woes in Metropolitan Division games,’ Newsday, 01/17/2020). They had five power plays and went 0-for-5. The Rangers also had five power plays, but converted on two of those attempts, even winning the game with a last-second power-play goal by Chris Kreider.

For the last couple of the seasons, the Islanders have not had a good power play; but a good penalty kill had masked those failures. However, their penalty kill stats are now below average, and almost a historically bad power-play has nowhere to hide.

Jim Hiller was brought in this offseason from the Toronto Maple Leafs to address power-play issues, yet the Islanders still have not found a groove on the man advantage. Whatever changes Hiller has made to the unit have gone unnoticed.

Jim Hiller New York Islanders
Assistant coach Jim Hiller, New York Islanders (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

Too often they are passing the puck around the outside, refusing to throw the puck at the net. They’re 2-for-26 on the power play in their last 13 games. The Islanders are simply losing games because of their special teams, and it’s affecting their playoff positioning.

Lack of Consistent Offense

Earlier this week, I discussed trade deadline options for the Islanders. Their forward corps is one of the worst in the league, and even when they’re getting considerable offensive-zone time, they aren’t scoring. They lost to the Rangers (on Thursday) and the Bruins in the first period. In both instances, the Islanders dominated the first period and significantly outshot the opposition, yet only came away with 1-0 leads. 

Jordan Eberle and Anders Lee are just starting to heat up, but they still lack consistent goal-scoring. Derick Brassard has not been the player he was in November, and Mathew Barzal has cooled off a bit.

Derick Brassard New York Islanders
Derick Brassard, New York Islanders (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Teams like the Colorado Avalanche or Toronto Maple Leafs can afford for a player to have an off night and still figure out a way to get a win. The Islanders need all hands on deck if they want to get two points against some of the better teams in the league.

Third Line Absence

The last goal scored by a member of the third-line was almost two weeks ago with Tom Kuhnhackl scoring against the New Jersey Devils. What made the Isles so dangerous last season was their ability to roll all four lines. Valterri Filppula was Mr. Dependable, leading the penalty kill and scoring 17 goals. The Isles do not have a consistent third line that can play game-in and game-out.

Against the Rangers at the Nassau Coliseum, Ross Johnston and Kuhnhackl played a combined 9:48 of ice time. You cannot be successful if your third line does not compare to the rest of your roster, and they barely get any game-time. Simply put, they are too reliant on their top-six for offensive production. 

Missing Adam Pelech

After Adam Pelech went down with a freak injury two weeks ago, the Islanders’ defense has not looked the same. Pelech is not a sexy defenseman, but he’s one of the most underrated in the NHL. His stick work and defensive consistency is unmatched by anyone on the roster.

New York Islanders Adam Pelech Arizona Coyotes Josh Archibald
New York Islanders’ Adam Pelech and Arizona Coyotes’ Josh Archibald (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Since the injury, the Islanders’ average goals against is half a goal higher. With Pelech healthy, the Islanders have the fifth-best defensive unit in the league, and without him, they’re up in the 20s. 

Not Capitalizing on Chances

In today’s affair, the Capitals took advantage of their chances, and Alex Ovechkin did his thing (from ‘Alex Ovechkin makes history at Islanders’ expense,’ Newsday, 01/18/2020). However, the Islanders didn’t help their cause by continuously shooting themselves in the foot. On the go-ahead and 4-2 goals, they made the ‘cute’ play and did not get the puck out of the defensive zone. When you’re holding the lead, you need to simplify your game and make sure you get pucks out of your zone. The Islanders did not do that, and it cost them two points.

Islanders Fans Should Not be Nervous

Last season, the Islanders fell into a rut similar to this one. In late March, it seemed like they could not buy a goal and lost to many bad teams. They were able to re-group and get back on the right track before playoff time. With the all-star break only days away, they will have an opportunity to get away from the rink. I’m confident that they will come out of the gate ready and come April, we won’t even remember this skid. If that fails, we still have head coach Barry Trotz to put our trust into.