Islanders Weekly: Lee’s Injury, Youth Movement & More

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.

RelatedLast Week’s Islanders Weekly

The Islanders wrapped up their first extended homestand of the shortened season and looked to keep a winning streak going as they hit the road again. Thursday’s home win was the seventh straight for New York, but other storylines took precedence over the team win. Captain Anders Lee went down with an undisclosed lower-body injury and did not return to the contest. The team moved on with Kieffer Bellows in his place over the next three games.

On Saturday night in New Jersey, Bellows played his first game in almost a month and recorded two goals on the first line with Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle. Semyon Varlamov got the win in that game before Ilya Sorokin started the next night for his second game of the week and picked up another win to extend his personal win streak to six. The challenge of the week was presented in Tuesday’s matchup with the Washington Capitals, where discipline issues and a lack of scoring saw the Isles lose for the first time in regulation in the last twelve games.

Lee Goes Down

After initially being designated as out indefinitely, it has now been revealed that the Isles’ captain is scheduled for ACL surgery and will miss the remainder of the season. At the time he went down, Lee was leading the team in goals with 12 and his line with Barzal and Eberle was rolling. He was moved to long-term injured reserve (LTIR), freeing up $7 million in cap space for the Islanders to use with the trade deadline rapidly approaching.

New York Islanders Anders Lee Dallas Stars Anton Khudobin
Anders Lee, New York Islanders(AP Photo/LM Otero)

The Islanders seem to be impressed with the work Bellows has done in Lee’s absence over the last three games, but there are intriguing options on the open market. If the Isles choose to explore the trade market, an intriguing rental option is the New Jersey Devils’ Kyle Palmieri. A proven goal-scorer on a struggling team, Palmieri is on an expiring contract and could benefit from making the move over to New York and competing for a playoff spot. Longer-term options include Anaheim Ducks forward Rickard Rakell and Nashville Predators forward Filip Forsberg, but the cost of these players could take the Isles out of the running.

Youngsters Step Up

Bellows is just one of the young Islanders who have been impressing of late. Oliver Wahlstrom continues to mesh well with Jean-Gabriel Pageau on the third line and the power-play, becoming the true sniper New York has been searching for. Another youngster entered the lineup against the Devils, with Sebastian Aho playing his first NHL game in nearly three years after Noah Dobson was placed in COVID protocol. Aho didn’t expect to play but contributed early with an assist on a Bellows goal, the winger’s third in two games since joining the first line.

Sebastian Aho New York Islanders
Sebastian Aho, New York Islanders (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

It is still unclear how much more time Dobson will spend in protocol, but Aho shouldn’t be expected to remain in the lineup much longer. He continues to take warmups as a taxi squad member, but until Dobson’s sudden appearance on the exempt list the Isles dressed the same defensemen for the first 28 contests. Bellows and Wahlstrom, on the other hand, appear to have solidified sizeable roles in the offense, both logging power-play time and big minutes late in games. Pending the team bringing in outside talent, both young snipers should continue to be key parts of a deep offense.

Tough Road Ahead

While the Islanders should certainly be impressed with their play of late, the schedule over the next few weeks is not getting any easier. During their nine-game win streak, seven of the wins came against the Devils and Buffalo Sabres, who, combined, have won 15 games this season to the Isles’ 19 victories. Each of the Islanders’ next 22 games will come against teams that qualified for the expanded playoffs a year ago, a challenge that will test how deep this team can make it in the playoffs.

Buffalo Sabres Sam Reinhart New York Islanders Josh Bailey Semyon Varlamov
Buffalo Sabres Sam Reinhart is hit in the back by a shot as New York Islanders right wing Josh Bailey and goalie Semyon Varlamov look on. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)

After its next two home games against the Philadelphia Flyers, New York will go on the road and make stops in Philadelphia, Boston, and Pittsburgh. These three teams are all among the top five in the MassMutual East Division and should give the Islanders a good challenge on the road. Continuing to get consistent goaltending and better discipline than was seen against the Capitals should put the Isles in a good position to pick up critical points against some of the best teams in the division.

Top Performers and the Week Ahead

Top Performers

  • Kieffer Bellows: 3 goals
  • Brock Nelson: 2 goals
  • Jordan Eberle: 3 assists

The Week Ahead

  • 3/18: vs Philadelphia Flyers
  • 3/20: vs Philadelphia Flyers
  • 3/22: at Philadelphia Flyers
  • 3/23: at Boston Bruins