The New York Islanders are coming off a brutal three-game sweep where the Washington Capitals not only won the series handily; they made the Islanders’ offense look invisible and hapless for the majority of the series. The team was outscored 8-3 in the three games and shutout twice. The struggles came at the worst possible time, with the playoffs around the corner and the team searching for the right line combinations. With the New York Rangers next on the schedule, it became pivotal to find goals early and often. On Thursday night, the team did just that, scoring twice in the first period and continued to pressure a defense that was only surrendering 2.60 goals per game. The question is how they could find the back of the net effectively, considering the poor play in the previous week.
Top Line Scoring Returned
It’s been clear since Anders Lee was placed on the long-term injured reserve with a torn ACL that the Islanders needed to find someone to play on the top line alongside Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle. Despite different line combinations and acquiring both Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri at the trade deadline, the offense as a whole has struggled and the top line, in particular, hasn’t been the same. In the past three games against the Capitals, the Islanders started Leo Komarov, Zajac, and Josh Bailey on the top line and in all three games, the top line was silent.
Against the Rangers on Thursday night, the Islanders found Komarov open in front of the net early for a goal. Considering how Igor Shesterkin, a phenomenal young goaltender who has continued to improve as the season has progressed and force offenses to get creative on the offensive end, has played, this was the ideal play for the offense. Eberle crashed the net and force Shesterkin to open up and allow the center of the ice to free up, which the top line can and should master.
Moreover, Barzal has proven throughout this season and his career that he can create openings for skaters on his shirt with his speed and ability to draw defensemen and Eberle has proven to be a great complimentary skater. Barzal hit an empty-net goal to cap off the 4-0 victory and continued to generate opportunities and open shots throughout the game.
Generating Offense From the Point
One of the intriguing factors of the Islanders’ offense this season was their production from the defensemen on both ends of the ice. Recently, the Islanders have seen a drop-off in production from defensemen like Nick Leddy, Scott Mayfield, and Noah Dobson, who have combined for seven goals and 46 assists on the season but in the last three games, only contributed one assist with the Leddy-Mayfield pairing only firing six shots in the series. The offense hasn’t been great all season, scoring 2.69 goals per game but the playmaking from the point was a key component in the offense finding the few goals needed to win many low-scoring games.
Against the Rangers, the production in the offensive zone was going to be pivotal considering how well Adam Fox, Ryan Lindgren, and K’Andre Miller have played defensively and the skating ability they possess to eliminate odd-man rushes. Mayfield and Leddy combined for three assists in the game and were able to help the offense open up and get the puck to the net. The Islanders needed the scoring defensemen to step up after looking awful against the Capitals and they have found just that with the hope that the team can continue to thrive in the upcoming game against the Rangers.
Oliver Wahlstrom Breaks Out of Slump
It looked like Wahlstrom was one of the best young skaters in the NHL and a potential Calder Trophy candidate a month ago. After all, the 20-year-old forward provided the Islanders with great shots on the net, great skating, and most importantly, nine goals to add depth to the second or third line, depending on who he would play alongside. Unfortunately, Wahlstrom has fallen off in production over the past month, failing to find the back of the net since March 25. We saw the drought ended on a first-period power-play where Wahlstrom found an open shot and sniped it past Shesterkin to double the lead to 2-0, a reminder of the young forwards shooting ability and a sign that the depth can return to the offense with great play on an individual level.
Expectations for Next Game Against the Rangers
The Islanders have played well against the Rangers for most of the 2020-21 season, only losing twice to them thus far. However, the Rangers have continued to improve throughout the season. They are now a team that looks capable of making the playoffs in the competitive East Division and being a tough team to beat in a playoff series. The expectation is for a defensive game where well-executed passes and plays in the offensive zone will result in rare but game-deciding goals. The Islanders have scored 10 goals in the last two meetings and the offense can put the upcoming game away if they constantly get the puck on the net and potentially run up the score to give the team their sixth victory on the season against their New York rival.
Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November but has been a journalist for multiple blogs since the end of the 2019-2020 NHL season. While not following any specific team, Mike covers the New York Islanders for The Hockey Writers, a team that has turned themselves into legitimate cup contenders with Barry Trotz as the head coach.