Islanders Lack Structure, Energy in First 5 Games

Like a poorly baked cake on the Great British Baking Show, the Islanders have lacked the consistent structure that made them successful during the 2018-19 season. Weak goaltending, lack of energy, and defensive breakdowns have led to a slow start for the Islanders, who have just one regulation win during their first five games of the 2019-20 season.

Goaltending Questions Remain

The goaltending, specifically Semyon Varlamov, hasn’t looked as sharp early on, giving those who doubted the Islanders’ continued success in their own zone the evidence they were looking for. Many of the goals in the 5-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers weren’t anything special, and the coaching staff agreed, pulling Varlamov after allowing four goals on 19 shots. The Islanders’ defense left Thomas Greiss out to dry a number of times during the next game — a loss to the Carolina Hurricanes — but the general effort by the team was something to build on.

Varlamov did post his first victory against the Florida Panthers, even if it took a shootout.

“I felt like I was myself today and, of course, the team played different hockey,” Varlamov said. “Everybody played well defensively like we were supposed to play. Everybody followed the team structure.”

Newsday’s Andrew Gross speaking with Varlamov after the Islanders 3-2 victory.

This is good news for the Islanders. Similar to a forward who gets the monkey off their back by scoring their first goal of the season, goalies need to get their first win under their belt to find their groove before they really get going. Whoever it is, one of Varlamov or Greiss needs to become someone head coach Barry Trotz can depend on soon or the Islanders may not be able to recover.

Isles Need an Energy Boost

A good portion of this comes down to the Islanders not playing with energy. Following the loss to the Oilers, Matt Martin had this to say.

Some of this could be attributed to an injury to one of the team’s important role players, Casey Cizikas. He was seen in the press box prior to the game against the Panthers walking in a boot, though he may not miss that many games with the Islanders’ schedule loosening up this week. Additionally, he may have been playing with an injury over the last couple of games and not at the top of his game.

Anthony Beauvillier and Mathew Barzal have used their quickness to create opportunities, though that’s been without much help from the rest of the lineup, with one exception.

New York Islanders Anthony Beauvillier Washington Capitals Matt Niskanen
New York Islanders’ Anthony Beauvillier skates with the puck away from Washington Capitals Matt Niskanen. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Rookie defenseman Noah Dobson has looked great so far this season. Though he’s only played in two games, he hasn’t looked out of place. In his first game, which came against the Oilers, he jumped into the play beautifully, setting up Matt Martin for a goal and notching his first NHL point. His offensive ability is sorely needed, and if he begins to dress regularly, he could make an impact.

If the Islanders plan on righting the ship, they’ll need some other players to step up, especially in light of Jordan Eberle’s recent injury. The team has players with the ability to take on that top-six role, but they haven’t shown it yet. Oliver Wahlstrom found his way into the lineup in today’s game against the defending Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues after being called up earlier this morning. The Islanders 2018 first-round pick was a late cut from the Islanders camp a few weeks ago and with Josh Ho-Sang’s request for a trade and having not reported to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, Wahlstrom was the “next man up” as coach Trotz says. Depending on the extent of Eberle’s injury, Wahlstrom could find himself with a great opportunity to show he’s ready for the NHL and give a boost to the Islanders’ top-six.

The Islanders’ lines were jumbled during their game against the Panthers and it remains to be seen how things shake out this week in regard to a call-up or other lineup changes.

It’s Still Early

A bright spot to the Islanders’ mediocre play so far is that through the team’s first five games last season, they were in a similar position, posting an identical 2-3-0 record. They continued to struggle until Game 10. From there, they rattled off five wins in a row and didn’t lose three games in a row in regulation throughout the remainder of the regular season.

Mikko Koskinen Anders Lee
Edmonton Oilers goaltender Mikko Koskinen corrals the puck in front of New York Islanders left wing Anders Lee (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Another bright spot includes the aforementioned Beauvillier. His two goals and two assists aren’t taking the league by storm, but it was important for him to get off to a good start. He plays with a lot of energy and has become one of the core offensive players for the Islanders over the last couple of seasons. Based on the game against the Panthers, he’s getting a shot in the top-six, along with Cal Clutterbuck.

The Islanders’ first five games have looked ugly at times, but it’s safe to say Trotz and Lou Lamoriello won’t sit idly by as their team sinks to the bottom of the standings.