The New York Islanders didn’t have the best start to the season, winning only three of their first seven games. The early season struggles will require the team to make up ground in the competitive Metropolitan Division and will make the upcoming month a crucial one.
Despite the early struggles, the Islanders continued to prove they are a competitive team and why they have been in recent years, reaching the Stanley Cup Semifinal in back-to-back seasons. Likewise, the roster saw many players step up in the early games of the season and can potentially play pivotal roles in the team’s success throughout this season.
Islanders Overachieving Players
Oliver Wahlstrom is the leading goal scorer on the Islanders with four and is the top scorer despite only 12:49 average time on the ice per game. Wahlstrom has shown early on in his career that he is one of the more accurate shooters on the team, and his ability to find open shots on the wing is paying off and allowing him to pick apart even some of the best goaltenders.
At 21-years-old, Wahlstrom is proving that he can be one of the best young scorers on the Islanders and be pivotal to the team’s success for years to come. Likewise, Wahlstrom can play on the same line as Mathew Barzal and take advantage of his play-making ability or play alongside Jean-Gabriel Pageau on a great two-way forward line and could ultimately finish the season as the Islanders top scorer if he continues to execute accurate shots on the goal.
With Semyon Varlamov starting out the season with an injury and being unable to play, Ilya Sorokin was asked to start every game in the net and face some of the best offenses in the NHL as well. Sorokin struggled at times but overall didn’t disappoint and oftentimes carried the Islanders in close games. The 26-year-old goaltender posted a .931 save percentage and a 2.26 goals-against average on 232 shots, and most importantly, looked unfazed by the overwhelming offenses of the opponents, highlighted by back-to-back shutout performances against the Arizona Coyotes and Vegas Golden Knights.
Varlamov is expected to return to the lineup in the upcoming games and with his return, resume the role of the starting goaltender for the Islanders. However, Sorokin reminded head coach Barry Trotz and the coaching staff that he can be counted on to not only split starts with the veteran goaltender but possibly lead the team by the middle of the season. Sorokin was one of the best players for the Islanders to start the season and a pleasant surprise but will for the rest of the season be heavily relied upon to keep games low-scoring and oftentimes lead the team to victory.
Anthony Beauviller is one of the best forwards on the Islanders and was one of the few to stand out in the first month of action. On the same line as Brock Nelson, Beauviller has scored three goals and added an assist, and has been pressuring opposing defenses with his speed and puck handling on the wings. The 24-year-old forward looks to play a big role in the offensive production for the Islanders, and after a strong start, he will likely finish the season as one of the most valuable players on the team.
Islanders Underachieving Players
The Islanders captain and one of their best scorers struggled early on. Anders Lee is recovering from a torn ACL that ended last season early for the top-line center, and as a result, the offensive play-making isn’t there yet. Lee only has one goal to start the season, but more importantly, isn’t taking advantage of Barzal’s ability to create space in the offensive zone and find scoring chances near the opposing net, something the Islanders have grown accustomed to in recent seasons. The veteran center should turn a corner on the season and start capitalizing on opportunities in the offensive zone, but the first few games have been anything but promising for one of the team’s top scorers.
The Islanders entered this season knowing they would have a massive hole on the left side of their defensive unit with Nick Leddy traded to the Red Wings in the offseason. The hope was Zdeno Chara would play alongside Scott Mayfield or Noah Dobson to help give the Islanders a deep defensive unit, but the result has been frustrating for the team and fans alike. Chara at 44-years-old is past his prime and slow on the ice, hindering the Islanders’ defensive play in the neutral zone against the odd-man rush and production in the offensive zone. The hope is that the veteran defenseman will improve with more games in the Trotz defensive system, but if the struggles continue, Lou Lomorailo and the front office might start searching for left-side defensemen to acquire prior to the trade deadline.
Zach Parise was acquired in the offseason with the hope of adding depth to the forward unit and an experienced goal-scoring presence. Unfortunately, Parise has been anything but and playing on the Pageau line, has yet to make an impact on the Islanders. Granted at 37-years-old, the Islanders were expecting him to play a reduced role on the forward unit, but early on, it’s clear that the team will have to compensate for the loss of speed and ability to create scoring chances from the veteran acquisition.
Other Players That Stood Out
Cal Clutterbuck caught everyone’s attention when he sniped a top-shelf shot to the back of the net in the 4-1 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks and similarly when he found the back of the net on a top-shelf shot against in a 3-0 victory over the Arizona Coyotes.
Clutterbuck adding goals to the backend to the forward unit has been a pleasant surprise for the Islanders, but more importantly, the play of the fourth line with Casey Cizikas and Matt Martin joining the veteran forward has been excellent to start the season, especially on the forecheck in the offensive zone, disrupting opponents from starting up the offense. The first few games have only been a small sample size for the Islanders to start the season, but the players that have stood out for better and for worse are going to continue to play a crucial role in the team’s success this season.
Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November 2020 and covers the New York Islanders. In addition to covering the Islanders, Fink writes about the NHL at large and contributes as a weekly guest to The Hockey Writers Podcast. Follow Mike on Twitter @Finks_thoughts for more Islanders and general hockey insights.