The summer of 2021 was an interesting one for the New York Islanders and general manager Lou Lamoriello. After a second trip to the Stanley Cup semi-final, Lamoriello decided not to make any big splashes over the summer, outside of exposing, and losing, Jordan Eberle to the Seattle Kraken. The subtractions made sense in the grand scheme of things; the forwards lost vs. the players expected to be in the lineup, including Anders Lee’s return, provided a scoring upgrade when you looked at the last two seasons. The latter forward group included bringing back Long Island-native Kyle Palmieri to ideally ride shotgun with Mathew Barzal and opposite Lee, which didn’t work out early in the season. However, Palmieri has found a new home next to J.G. Pageau, and the results speak for themselves
Palmieri’s Slow Start
Palmieri was added to the Islanders to replace Eberle, and he wasn’t quite able to do that during the early part of the 2021-22 season. Between injuries, a 13-game road trip to start the season, and entering COVID protocol, his first 29 games of the season were not what Islander fans or management expected. Instead, Oliver Wahlstrom has been ultimately tasked with stepping into Eberle’s shoes on the first line, though his ice time continues to fluctuate by the game. There’s been a lot of potential shown between Barzal and Wahlstrom since they were put back together on March 13 despite their chances not finding the back of the net right away.
“I think, you know, we haven’t scored maybe a ton, but I personally like where our lines game’s at,” Barzal said in March. “I don’t know what our chance differential would be, but I feel like it’s probably through the roof. Probably could have 10 to 12 goals in our last four or five games and that’s not an exaggeration. I really feel like we’ve had some you know, a lot of great luck. So, I do feel like the chemistry is there between the three of us, just got to find a way to get the puck in the back of the net.”From, “Barzal & Wahlstrom: Defensively Sound, Learning One Another’s Offensive Game,” NYI Hockey Now, 3/23/22
Since then, the line has taken the next step, scoring goals during the Islanders’ recently ended four-game win streak. With that line adjustment, Palmieri needed to find a place further down the lineup. His slow start — only one goal in 29 games — was far from the output the Islanders needed. However, the birth of his son in February and new linemates shortly after, starting with a stint next to Brock Nelson and eventually landing next to Pageau, gave the 31-year-old winger newfound life. Palmieri now has 12 goals in his last 27 games, including the game-winner against the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday night.
When Palmieri returned to the lineup after the birth of his child, head coach Barry Trotz said, “I talked to him and said let’s forget about the first half of the season and let’s focus on just the last half of this regular season and see if we can get a little bit of traction, a little more production.” We’ve definitely seen his production increase, giving the Islanders new life in the second half of the season after a slow start.
Palmieri, Pageau in Sync for Islanders
A big part of Palmieri’s turnaround this season has been his chemistry with center, Pageau. Many were critical of Pageau’s lack of production, which was partially understandable. But what many kept forgetting is that, as the third-line center, it’s not necessarily his role to be the primary scorer for the team. The top six has struggled all season, due partially to Palmieri’s poor start, but outside of Lee and Nelson, the rest of the top forwards continue to lack finish.
In any event, Pageau and Palmieri seemed to click almost immediately, even if the goals took a second to develop. The two right-handed shots play with plenty of speed and are defensively responsible. Palmieri’s gritty play and hard-nose, to-the-net style seems to balance well with Pageau’s ability to find open space and finish his chances.
Both have turned it on in the second half of the season and, together, are finding their game. Over the last 11 games, Pageau has 10 points, including five goals, and Palmieri has nine points, including four goals. Palmieri’s pep and ability to handle the puck in a lot of situations has been a huge part of the pairing’s and their individual success. Early in the season, Palmieri was playing a simple, north-south game, getting physical on occasion, but not handling the puck very much. Following his return in February, we saw a different player, one that held the puck a little longer with confidence and began to pull the trigger more often. Pageau has clearly benefited from a little more puck possession and defensive help, and the two players seem to have a nice future ahead of them.
Related: Revisiting the Islanders’ Decision to Expose Jordan Eberle
It’s clear Lamoriello will be looking to fill the first-line left-wing role next to Barzal for the 2022-23 season to bring more of a scoring punch to the roster, but he can rest easier knowing he has depth to work with that’s produced some chemistry. There will certainly be some movement within the forward group, but Wahlstrom-Barzal, Nelson-Lee, and Pageau-Palmieri, in addition to the fourth line of Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas, and Cal Clutterbuck, will give Lamoriello and Trotz a great foundation to build around this offseason.