Islanders Weekly: Losing Ground in Tight East Race

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 were presented with a tremendous opportunity to steal crucial points from the rival Washington Capitals. The two teams faced off in three straight games, with the first two being home games for New York. Stellar goaltending stole the show in the first matchup, with Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Samsonov pitching matching shutouts through regulation and overtime. Both Anthony Beauvillier and Nicklas Backstrom scored in the second round of the shootout before Evgeny Kuznetsov edged Brock Nelson in round three to seal a Caps victory on night one.

The chances were more abundant in Saturday’s meeting at Nassau Coliseum, this time with Ilya Sorokin in net for the Isles facing off with Samsonov. The Capitals put six goals past Sorokin, all at even-strength, and walked away with a 6-3 victory. The Islanders went 2-for-2 on the power-play and even added a shorthanded goal, but were unable to match the scoring of the Caps despite them missing captain Alex Ovechkin.

The Caps would be without Ovechkin again on Tuesday, and this time looked like they were missing their best goal-scorer. Daniel Sprong opened the scoring with a goal within the first two minutes, and this accounted for all the scoring in the game. After allowing the early goal, Sorokin was very sharp in his second straight appearance, turning away 32 of 33 Capitals shots. New York managed just 18 shots by comparison, and finished the three-game series with just three goals, none of which were scored at even strength.

More Scoring Woes

After a very inconsistent last week in terms of scoring, the Islanders continued to struggle in finding the back of the net, particularly at even strength. Over the last two weeks, the Islanders have scored an even-strength goal in just two of eight games, one of those being the anomaly that was the six-goal explosion against the New York Rangers last week. In that same time frame, they have been shut out three times, and put together a one-goal performance twice, one of which waited until overtime to find its first goal.

After the trade deadline, there was optimism surrounding the team that the scoring issues would be mitigated by the team’s additions up front. Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri have by no means been the issue, but the team as a whole has struggled to find goals since the former New Jersey Devils arrived.

Travis Zajac New York Islanders
Travis Zajac, New York Islanders (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)

Coach Barry Trotz has experimented with a few different line combinations in an attempt to find the right mix to get his group going again. He has tampered with the top three lines, including trying Zajac on the top line, but he appears to prefer the veteran on a line with Palmieri.

Josh Bailey was the most recent addition to Mat Barzal’s unit, as the team still searches for a permanent solution to the loss of Anders Lee. More changes will be certainly be coming to the lines, at least until the coaching staff sees consistent goal production for their playoff-hopeful roster.

Chance to Rebound

While the results of the three games against Washington aren’t pretty, the team isn’t out of it just yet. The next two games against the Rangers should be very exciting contests, as the Rangers are rapidly climbing the standings and could put pressure on the Islanders if they string together wins against them. The opportunity for the Isles comes after the two-game set with the Rangers, as their next four games are against the Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils. These two teams sit at the bottom of the MassMutual East Division, and the Isles have found much success against these opponents to this point.

Buffalo Sabres Sam Reinhart New York Islanders Josh Bailey Semyon Varlamov
Buffalo Sabres Sam Reinhart and New York Islanders right wing Josh Bailey screen goalie Semyon Varlamov. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)

The Islanders have a five-point cushion over the Rangers before their series, and with a successful two games could even widen that gap before the going gets a little easier. The majority of the games along the Isles’ long point streak earlier this season came against the Devils and Sabres, so there is a reason for optimism that they can turn this tough stretch around. If they can figure out their scoring situation against the Rangers, these next two weeks could be just the stretch the Isles need to get back in the thick of things in the division race.

Top Performers and the Week Ahead

Top Performers

  • Adam Pelech: 1 SHG
  • Anthony Beauvillier / Jean-Gabriel Pageau: 1 PPG
  • Semyon Varlamov: 1 start, 0.00 GAA, 1.000 SV%, SOL

The Week Ahead

  • 4/29: at New York Rangers
  • 5/1: vs New York Rangers
  • 5/3: at Buffalo Sabres
  • 5/4: at Buffalo Sabres