Now quickly approaching the halfway point of the 2022-23 season, the New York Islanders would find themselves in the last wild card position if the Stanley Cup Playoffs began today. Wedged in the stiff competition of the Metropolitan Division, they have had mixed results boasting an 18-13-2 record in 33 games played. They currently sit in fifth place in the Metro as their divisional foes have been ramping up the play of late. Their longtime rival New York Rangers have leapfrogged them in the standings on their current seven-game winning streak. However, the division is still up for grabs as the New Jersey Devils have seen their lead vanish by dropping three straight decisions. Today we look at five of the Islanders’ biggest needs for a return to the playoffs this April.
Islanders Need to Capitalize on Power Play Opportunities
It is no secret that the Islanders’ power play has struggled throughout the season. Capitalizing on 20.6 percent of their opportunities has their powerplay ranked 21st in the league, which isn’t enough of a threat to compete amongst true-contending teams. Jean-Gabriel Pageau leads the team with four powerplay goals, while Brock Nelson, Anders Lee, Zach Parise, and Noah Dobson each have three a piece. Mathew Barzal leads the team with 14 powerplay points.
As the season progresses, each squandered powerplay opportunity will become more meaningful as points will be at a premium in the tight division standings. Division rivals have players such as Mika Zibanejad, Alex Ovechkin, and Jake Guentzel, all cashing in regularly with the man advantage. A healthy Kyle Palmieri will provide the team with more options on their woeful powerplay; however, the Islanders may benefit more from addressing their lack of a bonafide powerplay scorer through a trade acquisition. Bo Horvat’s name has been swirling in the rumour mill and would provide an immediate boost if general manager Lou Lamoriello can land the Vancouver Canucks captain.
Through the first 33 games, the Islanders have struggled to string together consecutive wins. They posted a season-high, five-game winning streak that included wins over Stanley Cup contending teams such as the Rangers, Carolina Hurricanes, and the defending champion, Colorado Avalanche. Wins over these top-level teams showcase that they can play with the contenders. However, too many times this season, the Isles’ have lost to weaker teams, leaving valuable points on the table. If they plan on participating in this spring’s quest for the Cup, they’ll need to provide more consistent play night in and night out.
Islanders Need a Top Four Defenceman
The Islanders’ defence played a significant role during their run to the Semi-Finals in the COVID-19-shortened season. However, Nick Leddy was traded to the Detroit Red Wings, leaving a hole on the team’s blue line since that time. While they bolstered their prospect pool by receiving a 2021 second-round draft pick (Aatu Raty), the Islanders have not been able to fill the void left by Leddy’s departure.
When looking around the league at potential fits and trade targets, Shayne Gostisbehere is an intriguing name. He is a pending unrestricted free agent (UFA) at the end of this season, and the Arizona Coyotes are perennial sellers at the trade deadline. The left-handed defenceman has eight goals and 15 assists for 23 points in 29 games this season. He also would provide the Islanders with another threat on the powerplay as they could use his heavy left-handed shot from the point.
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Other potential pending UFA defencemen include Vladislav Gavrikov from the Columbus Blue Jackets, Nick Holden from the Ottawa Senators, and Jack Johnson from the Chicago Blackhawks, who played a substantial role for the Avalanche in last season’s playoffs.
Islanders Lacking Depth Scoring
Turning back to the Islanders’ offensive side of the game, they would greatly benefit from more depth scoring throughout their forward lines. Pegged as a fourth-liner at the beginning of the season, veteran Zach Parise has been providing secondary scoring for the club. He has ten goals and six assists for 16 points in 32 games. Josh Bailey has struggled to produce this season, as have Casey Cizikas, Palmieri, Anthony Beauvillier, and Oliver Wahlstrom. Of the team’s 104 goals, 21 have come from a defenceman, leaving 83 goals scored by their forward group. Of those 83 goals, 42 have come off the sticks of either Brock Nelson, Anders Lee, Pageau, or Parise.
Once again, Lamoriello may have to look at making a deal to bring in the additional scoring needed to match up with the top teams in the Metropolitan Division. As Horvat’s name has been recently linked to the Islanders, he would be the obvious choice to bolster the squad’s offence. However, the price for Horvat will be steep, and if the Islanders’ GM can’t pull the trigger on a deal for him, there are more options. Some notable UFA forwards that may be available include Gustav Nyquist, Max Domi, Andreas Athanasiou, and Sean Monahan.
Islanders Need Strong Goaltending to Continue
Goaltending has been a strong point for the team up to this point in the season. However, for the Islanders to keep pace with their divisional foes, they will need their goaltending to continue their solid play. Ilya Sorokin has a 10-10-1 record on the campaign posting two shutouts and a 2.36 goals-against average (GAA) with a .926 save percentage (SV%). However, Semyon Varlamov has the better record of the two, with slightly worse numbers, as the Russian goaltender has an 8-3-1 record with a 2.65 GAA and .919 SV%. Varlamov’s health status remains in the air as the team has announced they’ve recalled Cory Schneider. When fully healthy, the tandem will be leaned on heavily as the team continues to search for offensive support.
With six teams actively in the hunt, the playoff race in the Metropolitan will be the tightest across the NHL. Lamoriello’s moves will largely determine the Islanders’ fate in the coming weeks. More consistent results from the team going forward will further entice the GM to make the necessary changes to push the team over the edge. Despite their recent slide in the standings, if the Islanders can address these needs, they will return to the postseason this April.