Islanders Really Need This Christmas Break

The New York Islanders have had a lot go their way early this season. They had a 10-game winning streak, and a club-record 17-game point streak. Since then, other than a couple of exciting overtime wins, the Islanders have not played their best these past few weeks.

They were swept in their trip out west to California and most recently, lost three straight games at home to teams that entered the game out of playoff position. The Isles had a lot of injuries early this season, but have returned nearly their whole roster and have had the opportunity to rotate in healthy forwards much of the past few games.

“You have to look at the big picture,” said head coach Barry Trotz.” We have had a good 35 games. Looking back on last season, I think we are nine points ahead of where we were last year. That doesn’t mean much if you don’t start winning games. I have not liked our last three home games.”


Penalty Kill Struggling

For the first time this season, the Islanders are struggling on the penalty kill. They had done a pretty good job this season under assistant coach Lane Lambert, but have given up a goal while shorthanded in each of the past five games. During that stretch, they have killed only 65 percent of their penalties and rank 20th in the league in penalty killing, at under 80 percent.

One problem for the Islanders is that they are missing one of their best penalty killers – last Thursday, Cal Clutterbuck was cut by Patrice Bergeron’s skate in a game against the Boston Bruins and is out indefinitely after having surgery. Also, with the Islanders rotating forwards, Leo Komarov has been scratched in five of the past seven games. The club has been going with Brock Nelson and Casey Cizikas as well as Tom Kuhnhackl and Josh Bailey on the penalty kill.

Detroit Red Wings Jonathan Bernier New York Islanders Leo Komarov
Detroit Red Wings goaltender Jonathan Bernier stops a shot as New York Islanders right wing Leo Komarov looks for the rebound (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

They have done a nice job of creating shorthanded chances, as Cizikas nearly had the go-ahead goal late in the third period against the Columbus Blue Jackets. However, the Islanders have been getting caught in the defensive zone for way too long without being able to change and teams have been able to take advantage. They also have not been able to get that timely save lately as goaltending has become an issue.

Struggle in Net

The Islanders began the season by alternating between Semyon Varlamov and Thomas Greiss in goal for the first 33 games. However, after Greiss allowed five goals on 15 shots in 40 minutes against the Nashville Predators, Semyon Varlamov started back-to-back games and broke the streak. During the stretch of games last week, the Islanders allowed 16 goals and then gave up three more in their loss on Monday night.

New York Islanders Semyon Varlamov
New York Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov (James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports)

While the Isles will potentially turn to one of their goalies late this season, neither Greiss nor Varlamov have shown they are up to the task of late. Varlamov has had a lot more experience as a No. 1, though Greiss showed in the playoffs in 2016 that when he gets his shot, he can play extremely well. There had been some bad bounces go against the Islanders leading to some unlucky goals, but for the most part, neither goaltender is at their best.

When looking at goals allowed, it’s also important to look at the guys in front of them. The Islanders have rotated in seven defensemen all season, though Noah Dobson is generally the odd-man-out. He didn’t help his cause with a brutal turnover versus the Blue Jackets, leading to Columbus’ second goal. The defense has been able to produce offense though, as Ryan Pulock had a goal and eight shots in the past three games. Johnny Boychuk also had a multi-point game against the Boston Bruins, but have all struggled in the defensive zone.

Lack of Secondary Scoring

Other than Mat Barzal, Anthony Beauvillier and Anders Lee of late, the Islanders have not seen much production from certain players. Guys such as Josh Bailey, Jordan Eberle, and Matt Martin each have struggled of late to put the puck in the back of the net. Both Andrew Ladd and Kuhnhackl are back from injuries, but have not scored in the three games combined between them.

Andrew Ladd (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The tough part for Trotz will be finding where to plug the guys in. Barzal and Lee have had a nice connection on the first line. Slated to be their third-line center, Derick Brassard has played much better on the wing, shifting Bailey back to center, where he hasn’t played in years.

The options in the AHL with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers aren’t very exciting. Kieffer Bellows has been one of their best players this season, but it’s hard to see the Islanders turning to him. Former first-round pick Oliver Wahlstrom is playing in the World Juniors for Team USA. One guy to keep an eye out is Josh Ho-Sang. He requested a trade earlier this season and did not report to the Sound Tigers. However, he recently returned to the team and picked up a point in his first game back.

The Islanders will have three off days before they travel to face the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday night. They will follow that up with another talented Western-Conference team in the Minnesota Wild on Sunday before finishing 2019 against the Metropolitan Division-leading Washington Capitals.