The New York Islanders are not a team known for its offensive play, so it may surprise you to learn that they’re keeping pace with the league’s best in goals and leading the MassMutual East Division in expected goals at even strength. The issue with these stats is that they’re cumulative and don’t necessarily reflect the team’s recent play, which has seen the Islanders’ offense stalling at a critical time in the season.
By the Numbers
Since the Islanders’ offensive explosion on April 1, an 8-4 victory against the Washington Capitals, their ability to score goals has dropped considerably, even with a deeper lineup following the additions of Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri. Since the April Fools Day game, they’ve scored one goal four times and have been shut out twice.
Digging deeper, during those 10 games, they’ve scored just 19 goals, which includes a six-goal outburst against the New York Rangers. Luckily, they’ve been able to put together a winning record over this span, going 6-3-1, but that won’t last if they can’t find ways to score goals. With nine games left in the regular season, including five on the road where the Islanders have struggled all season, they’ll need to build momentum if they plan on making another deep playoff run.
Mathew Barzal is, without a doubt, the Islanders’ best player and a bonafide NHL superstar. But too often, with some of the league’s best, including a former Islander captain, you often see him trying to do too much. This leads to turnovers just inside the offensive blueline and a lack of consistent chances from his line, which features Jordan Eberle and a continued carousel of forwards that has includes Zajac and Leo Komarov. Barzal’s skating and stick handling are his biggest assets, creating time and space while setting the tempo of the game. However, his downfall is overhandling the puck at times and not playing north-south. Simplifying his game might prove to be important moving forward.
Looking back a little more than a year ago, it took J.G. Pageau until the playoffs to truly break out with the Islanders. His two goals in two games, in addition to a fight against Jacob Trouba in his first game with the Islanders, endeared himself to fans, but it took some time to get his rhythm with the team. Looking at Palmieri so far, he finally looked like himself in his eighth game, a 1-0 loss against the Capitals. He’s had his chances prior to this game, but he took his game up a notch, keeping his feet moving and beginning to look a bit more confident with the puck. If he could get his game going, the Islanders could make a serious run this post-season.
Of course, the offensive woes go far beyond Palmieri. Josh Bailey has been a ghost for most of this season, Anthony Beauviller, Brock Nelson, and Eberle continue to be streaky scorers, and the defense has found it difficult to find the back of the net. It’s truly a team effort for the Islanders, but their problems – overthinking, poor passing, etc. – are sinking their offense over this latest stretch.
Finally, the Islanders’ power play has been abysmal this season. Currently, they rank 26th in the NHL at just 17.2%; they have not been able to figure things out on the man advantage. One of the big problems, and one that’s been plaguing them at five-on-five as well, is a lack of movement; that’s if they can even get a zone entry. Many times, players are standing in position and the puck seems to live on one side of the ice with the occasional chance towards the net. On top of that, there’s never quite enough traffic in front when a shot does make its way through. Especially come playoff time, it’s going to be vital for them to turn this part of their game around.
Head coach, Barry Trotz, has been a wizard behind the bend on Long Island. Epitomized during last season’s playoff run where we saw him press all the right buttons for his lineup, it’s difficult to question his decisions. With that in mind, Trotz is slowly figuring out the chemistry with newcomers Palmieri and Zajac, the latter of which found himself in the press box as a healthy scratch for the first time in his career against the Capitals on April 22.
Trotz has constructed a solid line of Beauvillier, Pageau, and Bailey as a strong middle-six punch. Bailey seems to be a better asset on this line than one with Nelson in the middle, which is a relief for Isles fans. Nelson and Palmieri seem to be finding some chemistry together. Michael Dal Colle, who has recently been on that second line, has been getting his chances as of late but remains snake-bitten. If he can find the net a few times or set up Nelson or Palmieri, that would be a sight for sore eyes.
Oliver Wahlstrom has been in and out of the lineup as of late. The shoot-first rookie could really help the power play and is a possible replacement for Dal Colle if Trotz decides to go with an out-of-character move. His lines typically have two offensive-minded players and on with a more defensive focus, so it wouldn’t be surprising if Dal Colle remains as a winger on the second line. But, Wahlstrom on that second line could provide some extra offensive punch as Palmieri finds his game.
The Islanders have managed to stay atop the East Division standings despite their goal-scoring troubles. Good teams find ways to win, but as the playoffs inch closer, they’ll need to straighten out the offense. They have an opportunity over the last nine games against the New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres to mix up lines and get things in order before the playoffs. It’s the games against the Capitals (two) and the Bruins (one) where they are provided with their post-season primer and the biggest test to end the regular season.
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Jon Zella is a 30-year-old Long Island native currently living in Syracuse, NY. Outside of hockey, he enjoys motorcycles, beer, coffee, and his dog Olive.