Over the last two seasons, the New York Islanders roster has been, in a word – unique. Outside of now two-time All-Star Mathew Barzal, there aren’t any bonified stars on this team. The roster has a “more than the sum of its parts” type of construction, which has seen a lot of success. However, when some of those parts are underachieving, and others are injured, the wheels begin to wobble. It’s not all doom and gloom on Long Island, though. Some players are doing what they were signed to do and others are overachieving to help stabilize the team.
Forwards Not Producing
Anthony Beauvillier, Josh Bailey, Derick Brassard, and Jordan Eberle all continue to have the same issue, one that has plagued the Islanders during the last two seasons: they aren’t producing. For some perspective, Brassard and Eberle have 24 points so far this season, the same amount as Ryan Pulock, who, if you don’t remember, is a defenseman.
Beauvillier is only five points ahead of those players and Bailey one above him. It’s understandable that the Islanders’ forwards aren’t lighting the lamp considering the team’s style of play, but the expectation was that this group of players would grow together, building chemistry after a successful season.
Bailey took a huge step back with the departure of John Tavares and under Trotz’s system but he’s still expected to produce more than he is. Beauvillier has already beaten his point total from last season with 33 games remaining, though many of those points have come in bunches. As a top-six forward, he’s expected to be more consistent than he has been despite those point totals.
Brassard may be the exception here considering he came in to replace Valtteri Filppula, who had an amazing 2018-19 season as the Islanders’ third-line center. Even still, Brassard needs to find his scoring touch and produce in the second half of the season if he wants a contract with the Islanders or anyone else next season. Perhaps if general manager Lou Lamoriello decides it’s the right time to make a trade, the team can better balance its forwards, creating some much-needed chemistry and getting the season back on track.
Cizikas Continues to Shine
Part of what Trotz calls the Islanders’ “Identity Line,” Casey Cizikas is the engine that keeps that has kept the team moving forward. Last season, he more than doubled his career-high of nine goals, making Trotz take notice.
“That’s a big jump,” Trotz said of Cizikas last season. “Twenty is pretty hard, especially with no power-play time. That’s pretty impressive. All that being said, if he plays Cizikas hockey, he’s going to have good success.”
Aside from buoying the bottom-six forward group with necessary scoring, something he isn’t excepted to do, Cizikas continues to lead by example, playing the type of hockey Trotz wants from the team. He gets pucks in deep, goes to the dirty areas, and continues to be a scoring threat against other teams’ top players.
Cizikas hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down, a good sign for the Islanders. When he, or any of his fourth line companions, are out of the lineup, there’s a noticeable difference in how the team plays. Hopefully, Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Martin, and Cizikas have a few more seasons left together. If Cizikas continues his high level of play at both ends of the ice, next season he’ll find himself in the following section.
Nelson, Pulock Leading by Example
One of the many Islanders’ homegrown talents upfront, Brock Nelson has continued to be a steady producer for his entire career on Long Island. He’s scored at least 20 goals in all but two of his seven NHL seasons, hitting 25 twice. Even as many players took a step back under the first year of Trotz behind the bench, Nelson powered his way to a 25-goal season and a career-high 53 points, earning him a nice extension last summer. This season, Nelson potted his 20th in the team’s 49th game. Not Gretzky numbers, but you can almost set your watch to Nelson scoring 20 goals a season.
Pulock has also continued to produce offensively while growing into his role as the Islanders’ clear-cut number one defenseman. Heading into the 2018-19 season, Pulock, coming off of his entry-level deal, agreed to a two-year “show me” contract, and he’s done just that. Pulock continues to lead Islander defensemen in points for the second year in a row and has blossomed into a shutdown player, the latter of which was on display during the Islanders’ four-game sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins last spring. (from ‘The two Islanders responsible for shutting down Sidney Crosby,’ New York Post, 04/16/2019)
In his third NHL season, Pulock is now expected to produce at both ends of the ice and he hasn’t disappointed. Speaking of expectations, he should expect a nice contract this summer when his bridge deal expires.
There’s still plenty of time for the Islanders to get things on track, especially with the possibility of an addition before the trade deadline, from inside or outside the organization. For the Islanders to make the playoffs and have success after they get there, the whole team will need to pull together following the All-Star break. They resume play this coming Saturday, Feb. 1, against the Vancouver Canucks.
Jon Zella is a 31-year-old, Long Island native currently living in Syracuse, NY. Outside of hockey, he enjoys motorcycles, beer, coffee, and his dog Olive.