Islanders’ Overtime Magic Helping Begin Season

It seemed like the season was coming to an end after the New York Islanders started 1-3, but after back-to-back wins in the extra session, all seems to be good on Long Island. The Islanders defeated the Florida Panthers 3-2 on Saturday, before beating the reigning Stanley Cup champions, the St. Louis Blues, in overtime Monday afternoon.

Brock Nelson scored a goal and had the shootout winner against the Panthers and then had another goal versus the Blues. Mat Barzal added the game-tying goal against the Blues with under 30 seconds left in regulation and then assisted on the overtime winner by Devon Toews.

Letting the Rookies Play

The Islanders broke out of camp with a former first-round pick in Noah Dobson. While he battled a minor injury the opening weekend, he has looked extremely strong, picking up a point in his first NHL game. While he was out of the lineup the last few games, the player drafted one spot before him, Oliver Wahlstrom, made his debut against the Blues and looked extremely sharp.

Oliver Wahlstrom Islanders
Oliver Wahlstrom, New York Islanders, 2018 NHL Draft, Dallas, TX, June 22, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

He played on a line with Josh Bailey and Derick Brassard to begin the game and had two shots in a little over 15 minutes of game action. He used his size to throw a hit on his opening shift and appeared on the power play as well as with the extra attacker with the Islanders down a goal late,

“I thought he was really effective,” said head coach Barry Trotz. “I thought for his first game he didn’t look out of place at all. He was physical. The speed wasn’t an issue. I thought he moved his feet. He stayed involved.” 

Barry Trotz,

With Casey Cizikas going on injured reserve and Ross Johnston and Tom Kuhnhackl the normal scratches, Wahlstrom should see lots of time as the Islanders look for offense.

First Line Contributing

It took a few games, but it certainly seems like Barzal is starting to hit his stride. He played so well in the preseason with Jordan Eberle and then wasn’t able to follow that up into the season. Even with Eberle out Monday, Barzal still picked up two points and has three in his past two games. With him, the goals will come, but his best attribute is his passing and that has been on full display this past holiday weekend.

Josh Bailey,Mathew Barzal,Sam Motembeault
New York Islanders center Mathew Barzal and Florida Panthers goaltender Sam Montembeault watch as Josh Bailey’s shot goes into the net (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The other player on his line is Anders Lee. The captain scored his first goal of the season against the Panthers and looks to be breaking out of his scoring drought. He had as many as 40 goals two seasons ago and has been the team’s most productive goal scorer since John Tavares left.

If Eberle ends up missing more time than expected, head coach Barry Trotz should try and get Wahlstrom on the wing of the first line to play with Barzal. Many times in the past, the Islanders have buried their rookies, playing them on the fourth line and limiting their minutes. They can ill-afford to do that with Wahlstrom with the goal-scoring ability he has shown throughout his college and American Hockey League career.

Solid Goaltending

One of the biggest questions coming into the season was what the Islanders would get out of goaltender Semyon Varlamov. They had 2019 Vezina Trophy finalist Robin Lehner but let him walk in free agency. They went to the veteran in Varlamov. Though he looked good in his first start, he was pulled in his second, allowing four goals on 19 shots.

However, he got the start Saturday and looked solid. He allowed only two goals and then made all three stops in the shootout for his first win with his new club. The script has been pretty similar with Thomas Greiss. He earned a win in his first game, but then allowed four goals Friday night to the Carolina Hurricanes. Trotz gave him the start against the Blues and he only allowed a pair of scores from Vladimir Tarasenko for his second win of the season.

New York Islanders Thomas Greiss Johnny Boychuk
New York Islanders’ Thomas Greiss celebrates with Johnny Boychuk. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

It would not be surprising to see the Islanders continue to rotate their goalies. It worked well for much of last season as they allowed the fewest goals in the league. Also, when one goaltender started to really shine, they would stick with that guy for a stretch of games.

Up Next

The Islanders will embark on their first road trip of the season starting on Thursday against the Winnipeg Jets. The two teams met a little over a week ago with New York winning 4-1. Following that, they will pay the Columbus Blue Jackets Saturday night before having four straight off days before a back-to-back to end the week.