The New York Islanders had a good February, to say the least. After an underwhelming first month of the season, and a week of action missed as part of the COVID-19 protocols, the Islanders went on to win 8 of the 12 games in the month (with two of the four losses being overtime defeats). The grades for the month are reflected by the strong overall play as the team has shown little weakness and few players that can be deemed liabilities.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau: A+
Pageau might not be on the top line but this past month, he was arguably the best scorer for the Islanders. Aside from the team-leading eight goals in February, including a run of five goals in four games, he gave the Islanders that extra scoring presence on the later lines and help lead the offensive depth. In addition, to the scoring presence that was added, the later line center has been one of the better defensive players on the forward unit, constantly creating turnovers and leading all forwards on the team in blocked shots with 26.
Mat Barzal: A
Barzal continues to impress and impact every game the Islanders play. On the top line, the constant ability to create scoring opportunities and space on the ice has helped not just the top-line center but everyone on his shift.
Barzal scored four goals and five assists in the month of February but has established himself as one of the more complete, if not the most complete skater on the Islanders. One of the few weaknesses from the month of January was the penalties the 23-year-old skater accumulated (24 penalty minutes) but the past month, the top scorer only took only six penalty minutes.
Anders Lee: A
Lee truly turned up the heat this past month. The captain has once again reminded us why he is on the top line as one of the better scorers on the team. Commonly seen benefitting from Barzal’s ability to create open space on the ice, Lee has been able to find the back of the net and open looks with his scoring instincts. The top-line forward was able to score six goals in the month to put him atop the Islanders scoring this season and when the captain does well it seems to help the entire lineup (nine of the 10 goals scored this season have come in victories).
Ryan Pulock: A-
It might be a surprise to many (including myself at some points) but Pulock was the Islanders’ best defenseman this past month. Paired with Adam Pelech, the duo have helped give the team one of the best defenses in the NHL but Pulock in particular was able to stand out his great play on both ends. His team-leading 2.0 defensive point shares, 42 blocked shots on the season (only trailing Scott Mayfield) and constant ability to create turnovers would already be beneficial enough for the Islanders.
This past month, we saw the strong play from the point and on the offensive end take off as well, with six assists in the month and the ability to get the puck to the net with slapshots from the point. It was simply great all-around play from the 26-year-old defenseman.
Jordan Eberle: B+
Eberle is always a strong scoring threat and has always given the Islanders a boost on the ice. This month we saw the versatility from the top-line scorer as he played along with Brock Nelson in the second line at the beginning of the month before joining Barzal and Lee on the top line again. Eberle’s ability to crash the net and find the puck in the offensive end has allowed him to find the back of the net five times but also the overall play from the veteran 30-year-old skater has helped give the Islanders stronger play in the recent victories.
Scott Mayfield: B+
Mayfield has continued to provide strong defensive play and along with Nick Leddy, has given the Islanders a deep defensive unit. Leading the team in blocked shots on the season with 43, he has been a constant on the defensive side despite struggling offensively with only one goal and four assists this season.
Nick Leddy: B+
Like Mayfield, Leddy has helped keep the Islanders’ defense one that is strong throughout and able to halt any offense. He is a constant force on the defensive side and not only did he improve this past month in his shot-blocking and blue line discipline, but has also made his mark on the offensive end as well.
The Islanders can constantly find the 29-year-old defenseman dishing out assists from the point, with nine in the past month to give him a team-leading 14 assists on the season.
Brock Nelson: B
Nelson has started to heat up after a disappointing January. After netting only two goals in the first month, he found the back of the net four times and earned three assists in February. The 29-year-old forward has established himself on the second line offensively with the likes of Eberle or Josh Bailey (depending on how head coach Barry Trotz chooses to align the lineup). The stats might not be mind-blowing but the ability to create opportunities in front of the net has helped the second line and the entire offense, making the Islanders a tough team to defend.
Semyon Varlamov: B
Semyon Varlamov has been the driving force in goal for the Islanders and is on pace for one of the best seasons in his 13-year career. Posting a .924 save percentage (SV%) and 2.27 goals-against average (GAA) in the past month, there is an urge is to start Varlamov every night.
Unfortunately, the starting goalie started to appear overworked by the end of the month and in the last five starts, lost three games including a four-goal defeat to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Islanders have gotten great play from their starting goaltender this season but the question is moving forward is how the team will split the time in the net.
Josh Bailey: B
Bailey had a bounce-back month as he started to make an impact on both the top line and the second line. With eight assists in the month, we saw Bailey turn a corner considering he only had three points in the first month of the season. The 31-year-old forward has been able to benefit the most from Anthony Beauvillier’s return to the ice as he has been able to find a rhythm on the same line along with Nelson to form a potent second line.
Anthony Beauvillier: B
Beauvillier finally returned to action on February 16th after missing more than three weeks to injury. It took him time to ease back into the lineup but he has helped the Islanders in their strong month. The stats might not be there (only one goal and two assists in the month) but his presence is clear.
The second-line scorer is able to allow forwards like Bailey and Nelson to find more scoring opportunities with the ability to crash the net and create odd-man rushes. The expectation for the 23-year-old forward is to only improve in the upcoming months and to give the Islanders a more potent offense for the season.
Oliver Wahlstrom: B-
One of the bright young spots on the roster, Wahlstrom is another skater that added to the depth on the offensive end, regardless of which line he was on. After scoring one goal which some saw as a fluke goal in January, he added three in the past month despite only averaging 10:51 of ice time. The 20-year-old forward still has a lot to improve upon but with the expected growth to continue, the Islanders can see their offense take greater strides as the season progresses.
Adam Pelech: B-
This might be surprising considering how Pelech is constantly one of the top defensemen on the Islanders and along with Ryan Pulock, form an excellent top pairing. What truly cost him this month was the time he spent in the penalty box, logging up 12 minutes and also a slight decline in his overall defensive play. Otherwise, the month was still a solid one for the 26-year-old defenseman as he still was able to create turnovers and play both blue lines well as part of an Islanders defense that has collectively played great this season.
Noah Dobson: B-
It’s easy to forget that the Islanders were able to trade Devon Toews this offseason because of the confidence they had in the young defenseman, Dobson. This season, he has fit into the third pairing on defense and he’s helped fill the need for a defense that has played well this season.
While not being much of a presence on the offensive end (only one goal and 4 assists in the month) the 21-year-old defenseman has continued to improve defensively and being paired with the 38-year-old veteran Andy Greene has been great for his development as he learns from one fo the more experienced defensemen in the game.
Casey Cizikas: C+
Cizikas has established himself as a solid contributor on the third or fourth line with Cal Clutterbuck. When the two are clicking, they give the Islanders that extra layer of scoring depth that makes the team hard to stop but when the two are struggling, as they have for the majority of the season, then the line fails to amount to much. Cizikas improved this month but is still failing to create constant scoring opportunities. Moreover, for the 13:01 average time on ice, it would be more beneficial if the 29-year-old center didn’t spend 13 minutes in the penalty box this month.
Matt Martin: C+
For the 10 minutes that Martin contributes to each game as a fourth-line forward, there have been flashes of talent shown from the 31-year-old scorer. Martin scored two goals and added two assists this past month but at the end of the day, he hasn’t been much of a factor in the teams’ production. As of now, the veteran scorer helps give top-line stars like Barzal and Lee extra rest with the hope of adding extra depth to the lineup.
Cal Clutterbuck: C+
After struggling in the month of January, Clutterbuck started to turn the corner this past month, adding a goal and two assists while also helping create more scoring opportunities on the line with Cizikas. Unfortunately, he trailed off as the month went on and missed the final two games of the month with an injury.
The Islanders’ scoring depth isn’t determined by how the 33-year-old forward plays but the play-making ability would be incredibly beneficial as the team is going to continue to face some strong defenses as part of the East Division.
Andy Greene: C
Greene has been the reliable, consistent veteran for the Islanders that has helped the depth defensively. The fear is that he will start to drop-off as the season progresses but so far, that hasn’t been the case. The 38-year-old defenseman is second on the team in blocked shots this season with 41 and while he might not be the skater on the ice that he was in his prime, the experienced, disciplined play has helped give the Islanders one of the best defense in the NHL.
Michael Dal Colle: C
Numbers can be deceiving for Dal Colle since he only has two assists this season and only averages 11 minutes on the ice per game. He has benefitted at times from being on the same line as Nelson and Eberle or Pageau as we saw in the recent games but the hope is for the next big step.
The scoring opportunities are being created by the forward but the results have yet to follow. The hope is with more ice time, the production will start to follow and the points can come as a result.
Leo Komarov: C-
Komarov was placed on waivers earlier in the month but since then has established himself as a late line skater that can give the top-line scorers extra rest on the bench. He netted two assists in the February 13th victory against the Boston Bruins but has otherwise been invisible and it’s likely we are watching the final games of the 34-year-old skater.
Not Graded: Ilya Sorokin, Austin Czarnik, Kieffer Bellows.
What Should We Watch Out for in March?
This month is not only going to have a plethora of games in store for the Islanders (hoping no games get postponed) but there will be plenty of games that will help determine where the team stands in the competitive East Division, which is arguably the toughest in the NHL. The Islanders catch a break by facing the Sabres (three games) and Devils (four games) in the first two weeks of the month but will have to finish the month against the Capitals, Flyers, Bruins, and Penguins for the final eight games. The team should hopefully start Ilya Sorokin in more games considering how they need to give Varlamov more nights off and continue to see Sorokin’s progress as a viable backup.
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.