The New York Islanders are in the midst of a seven-game point streak dating back to January 30th. After what was a subpar start to their season, Barry Trotz and Co. managed to turn things around, which has resulted in the team quickly climbing the standings, holding a playoff position.
There are no easy games when playing in the East Division, so every single point matters. The recent play of skaters like Jordan Eberle, Michael Dal Colle, J.G. Pageau, and the continued dominance from Mathew Barzal have helped the Islanders in their recent success. The secondary scoring has presented itself as of late, but that’s not the only contributing factor to the recent success, as special teams have seen an uptick in production as well.
The beginning of the seven-game point streak started a little rockier than the latter for the Islanders’ power play. In 10 chances with the extra man, the Islanders were only able to convert on one of those opportunities when Nick Leddy tied the game in the second period on Jan 31st against the Philadelphia Flyers. Following the overtime loss to Philadelphia, the scheduled games for the week ahead had been postponed due to COVID complications within the Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils. The Islanders wouldn’t return to game action until Feb 6th, against the Pittsburgh Penguins as a result.
During the five-day break, Trotz said practices would be special teams focused. “I think we have the personnel,” Trotz said. “People will say, you take all your best players and load it up. To me, it’s about mentality. It’s execution and mentality. Sometimes, we’ll have good entries and we’ll move it around and they refuse to shoot it. Or we slow it down so the penalty killers get set up” (from ‘Barry Trotz preaching shoot-first mentality on Islanders’ power play,’ Newsday, 02/03/2021).
The mentality certainly has been in the right place post-break. The Islanders have converted on four out of six chances over the last five games and have power play goals in their last three games. The team’s power play percentage now sits at 22.7%, 14th overall in the NHL. That’s a big boost from the 2019-20 Islanders power play, which only converted on 17.3% of chances.
The other end of special teams has been business as usual. The Islanders were 15th overall in 2019-20 killing penalties at 80.7%, and in 2020-21, it’s not much different at an even 80% PK rate. This is largely due to the last seven games, where the Islanders have killed off 11 of 13 penalties taken. Luckily, some new-found discipline from Barzal, who started the year off with 24 penalty minutes through his first nine games, has kept the Islanders out of the penalty box.
Since Anthony Beauvillier went down with an injury after five games, Trotz was forced to mix up the forwards group. Despite some skaters struggling to get going, the Islanders’ scoring hasn’t come from the top-line alone.
Barzal is currently enjoying himself a nine-game point streak (four goals, five assists), however, the Islanders’ forward depth has finally started to break through, finding themselves on the scoresheet. The fourth line is playing more and more like themselves lately. Casey Cizikas accounted for two of the four goals the fourth line scored in a three-game span against the New York Rangers and the Penguins twice. Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck chipped in a goal each. The identity line has looked more like themselves of late, not only scoring but creating numerous chances, throwing the body, and mixing it up on the ice, injecting necessary energy to the Islanders lineup.
Pageau has also started to find himself on the scoresheet as of late, after a carousel of wingers started to slow down, and some chemistry has been built on the third line.
The super-utility forward has contributed four goals on 15 shots in his last five games, one goal on the power play, and another coming short-handed. “I think he’s playing with a little bit of edge to him. He has that edge back… He has that game rolling,” Trotz said of Pageau’s recent success. “He’s a very important player for any coach in this league, I’m just telling you… You can slot him anywhere… he finds a way to get it done for you so he’s very important with our bench… Pager is a guy you win with. He gets it done when it matters most.”
If you want to call it a demotion, so be it, but Eberle has found success on the second line. He has three goals in his last five games, and six goals in 15 games played this season. It took Eberle 14 games to score his third goal in the 2019-20 season. His contributions on the second line have helped take some of the weight off the first line, which has created opportunities throughout the top-six.
Last night against the Sabres, it appears Josh Bailey and Brock Nelson are in the beginning stages of returning to form.
“I think first and foremost, [it’s about] team success,” Bailey said. “That being said, we all take pride in our roles and our jobs on this team. When you’re not doing what’s expected of you, it hurts you. I think it’s a motivating factor to get going, and sometimes you just need some results. I’m looking to build off it personally, and as a team, it’s a good win to start the trip. It’s a quick turnaround here, so we can’t sit on it for too long.”
Bailey tallied two assists last night, one on the power play, feeding Nelson on the Islanders’ third goal of the game.
Beauvillier is scheduled to return in the back-to-back against the Sabres tonight, and rookie goaltender Ilya Sorokin is expected to be in net. With special teams performing as well as it is, and the Islanders’ offense starting to breakthrough, a healthy Beauvillier gives the Islanders that much more depth moving forward, and we could see the goals starting to come in bunches.
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