The New York Islanders started out this season with a 3-1 record and looked poised to be among the best teams in the East Division. Moreover, the team looked similar to the one that reached the Eastern Conference Final last season with a great defense and clutch scoring.
Then everything went downhill. The Islanders are in the middle of a five-game losing streak that currently gives them the second-worst record in the East Division. Throughout the current skid, the Islanders have displayed glaring weaknesses that give any fan the worry about their playoff chances. The January grades reflect the poor play as few players have been bright spots and there are many that can be pointed to as part of the recent struggles.
Mat Barzal: A
One of the few bright spots for the Islanders, Barzal continues to impress and led the offense. Aside from a team-leading four goals and 10 points, Barzal has proven that he can constantly create scoring opportunities and space for the top line as he draws a crowd.
Even as the team has struggled, the top scorer has recorded a point in each of the last four games. If there is one thing that Barzal must improve, it has to be his penalties, which have cost him 24 minutes in the penalty box and have allowed opponents to score pivotal goals, including the one in overtime against the Flyers on Jan. 31.
Adam Pelech: A
Pelech has established himself as the top defenseman on the Islanders and had a great month to back it. Whether it be the ability to constantly stop opposing skaters from getting to the net, getting in front of a shot, or turning a takeaway into an offensive opportunity, Pelech seems to be leading the way for the defense. Many will point to only two assists and claim that his inability to create scoring opportunities from the point or at all can be a reason to say it was a bad month, but it’s hard to argue against his presence on the defensive end and the 21 blocked shots in the month.
Semyon Varlamov: A-
Varlamov started out this season with one of the hottest starts for any goaltender in the league, allowing only one goal in three starts. While the Islanders have hit a wall and Varlamov has struggled in the process, it’s hard to ignore that he has been one of the best players in spite of the losses.
By month’s end, the Islanders starting goaltender posted a .924 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.00 goals-against average (GAA). The last two starts almost distract from the lights out performances that we saw earlier in the month.
Anders Lee: B+
The Islanders captain has also been one of the few bright spots on the offensive side of things. Lee struggled at the beginning of the month (aside from the two-goal game on opening night) but has finished the month off strong as he helped the top line become a more viable threat. The most notable play from Lee came in the final game of January when he outskated the defense to serve Barzal a game-tying goal in the overtime defeat to the Flyers.
Jordan Eberle: B+
Like Lee, Eberle has struggled at times this season and on the top line, it is pivotal to see scoring success from the forwards, especially one as talented as he is. While being inconsistent this season, with some games where we see the little contribution from the top-line forward, we have seen a few games where one of the few bright spots offensively has proven his mark.
Despite the struggles, Eberle still gave the Islanders a viable scoring threat on the top line with his instincts and ability to find scoring opportunities.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau: B
It’s hard to ignore Pageau’s drop-off at the end of this month offensively, which can partially explain the Islanders’ struggles as their second and third-line scoring has also disappeared. However, he is still had one of the better months of many of the skaters on the roster. For starters, he is one of the better offensive players on the defensive end for the Islanders, with an impressive 12 blocked shots this month and one of the best defensive point shares. Aside from the defensive production, the one goal scored by the center came at an ideal time as it was the only goal scored in a defensive struggle against the Bruins to earn a 1-0 victory.
Noah Dobson: B
Dobson gives Islanders fans hope for a bright future beyond this season. There have been times where the 21-year-old defenseman has struggled, including a terrible night against the Rangers where he was careless at the blue line and struggled on the defensive end.
Other than that game, Dobson has looked like one of the best players and few bright spots on the team as he has grown into the defensive role and has also been a viable offensive threat from the point, including four assists this season which is tied for second on the roster.
Scott Mayfield: B
Mayfield has been surprisingly consistent this season. While being a non-factor on the offensive end, with only one point with a goal against the Flyers, he has been a constant force on the defensive side. Paired with Nick Leddy, the Islanders’ defense has been impressive despite the losses and the 28-year-old defenseman has been a part of that strength.
Brock Nelson: B
Nelson has been rather underwhelming as part of the second line of forwards. He has netted two goals and was playing well to start the season as part of a lineup that looked similar to the successful one the year prior. Since the 3-1 start, the 29-year-old forward has disappeared along with the rest of the second line offensively. The scoring ability is there and any Islanders fan is just waiting for the big plays to start piling in but the past few games have been disappointing, to say the least.
Ryan Pulock: B
Paired with Pelech for the majority of his ice time, Pulock has been a strong presence on the defensive end. It’s easy to look at the struggles on the offensive end and say that it was a bad month with only two assists on the season thus far.
However, Pulock has led the team in defensive point shares and has been a consistent presence defensively, creating turnovers and starting counter-attacks. The 26-year-old defenseman hasn’t been great this month but has been playing well as part of a defense that has been keeping the team in many of their game this season.
Andy Greene: B-
The 38-year-old defenseman continues to impress but does leave any fan worried about a potential drop off. While Greene’s veteran presence can’t go unnoticed and his defensive ability still showed in January (blocking 21 shots, which is tied for the most on the team along with Pelech), Greene started to struggle as the month progressed. The fear is that the aging defenseman will gradually fall off by the middle of the season but his experience can still help the Islanders with younger skaters like Dobson and the team overall.
Oliver Wahlstrom: B-
Wahlstrom only played in two games this season but has already shown the potential and talent that the Islanders hope will help moving forward. The 20-year-old forward has played on the later lines and only averaged 10:17 time on ice per game. In the little action, he has shown that the talent and ability to create scoring opportunities is going to only improve as the season goes on. With one goal already under his belt, the hope is that the young forward can become a key contributor in the future for the Islanders’ offense.
Nick Leddy: C+
Like many players on the Islanders, Leddy’s strifes came as the team started to struggle. While being a great presence offensively, scoring a goal and four assists in the month, he has been a liability on the defensive end. There has been a multitude of times the skater that was supposed to be guarded by him would get open and find scoring opportunities.
Likewise, the 29-year-old defenseman is the only one on the unit with fewer than 10 blocked shots. The defense has been the Islanders’ strength and Leddy is the rare individual on the unit that has struggled.
Josh Bailey: C
Bailey was one of the key players that the Islanders rely on for scoring that struggled this past month. After a 14-goal season, the expectation from the 31-year-old forward was to continue to be a scoring threat in the second or third line to provide depth to the offense. Unfortunately, he has only scored one goal and has three total points in January. After a slow start, the hope is that the recent overtime defeat against the Flyers turned the corner as the veteran scorer was responsible for a goal and assist in the game.
Anthony Beauvillier: C
It’s safe to say that the Islanders were starting to feel the loss of Anthony Beauvillier once he was placed on injured reserve with a lower-body injury.
While Beauvillier wasn’t playing well offensively in the first five games of the season, it’s clear that the later lines have lost a step since the injury. the hope is that the 23-year-old scorer can return to the lineup soon and return to being the scoring presence that helped give the team a deep scoring lineup.
Matt Martin: C
As one of the forwards on the later lines, there isn’t a high expectation for the 31-year-old Matt Martin. That being said, Martin had a rather forgettable month. He only averaged 10:31 time on ice and didn’t record a goal or assist while not creating many scoring opportunities either. The hope is that he can add depth to the scoring lineup but at the moment, it just appears that he is in the lineup to give stars like Barzal some extra rest in games.
Cal Clutterbuck: C-
Clutterbuck, like Martin, had a rather uneventful month for the Islanders. Another later line forward that should provide scoring depth to the offense but unfortunately, has only contributed two assists on the season thus far.
The hope is that the 33-year-old scorer can turn a corner on the season and that the improvements in the later games in January start to turn into true offensive production in February and the rest of the season.
Kieffer Bellows: C-
There are a handful of young, talented players on the Islanders that struggled to start the season. Bellows was one of those players as he played sparingly and struggled to find a true rhythm on the roster in the first seven games of the season. The 22-year-old was recently sent to the taxi squad with the hopes that he can return and be a major contributing piece for the team moving forward.
Casey Cizikas: D+
After two of the best seasons of his career (with 20 goals in 2018-19 and 10 in 2019-20), Casey Cizikas has been a non-factor in the Islanders’ offense this season.
As a third or fourth-line center, the hope was that there would be a constant contribution from the 29-year-old forward that would give the Islanders’ offense a boost. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case with Cizikas as he only scored once this season and has failed to create the needed scoring opportunities.
Michael Dal Colle: D+
Dal Colle only played in two games this season and with less than ten minutes of ice time per game, the 24-year-old forward didn’t contribute much if at all to the offense or overall team production. The rare appearances haven’t allowed him to establish himself in the lineup but it’s hard to see him climbing the depth chart anytime soon either.
Ross Johnston: D
Johnston had a bad start to the season, to say the least. Despite averaging only 8:29 time on ice, he managed to account for 18 penalty minutes which was only second to Barzal’s 24 penalty minutes.
Unlike Barzal, Johnston doesn’t have the scoring presence to make those penalty minutes forgivable and after a scoreless six games, the late line scorer might not be playing when the Islanders return to action.
Ilya Sorokin: D
Part of the growing pains is going to be the early struggles for the young Sorokin. He had a rocky start in goal as he allowed five goals in his first start against the Rangers and has yet to win a game. The 25-year-old goaltender should only continue to improve but the first month of his career can be one to forget with plenty of bad angles on shots, and a 3.65 GAA.
Leo Komarov: D-
Komarov’s season started out with him earning a five-minute major penalty against the Capitals in the final minutes of a tied game. Aside from the unfortunate start, he has been a non-factor for the Islanders in the three games he has started for them. If the struggles continue, it might be the end of the road for the 34-year-old forward.
Not Graded: Austin Czarnik and Dmytro Timashov
What Should We Watch Out for in February?
The next month is going to be crucial for the Islanders not just in the hopes of rebounding from a five-game losing streak but remaining in the playoff race in a very competitive East Division. The Islanders were slated to play the Buffalo Sabres for two games but both games were suspended as part of the Covid-19 protocols. When the team returns to action, they must be able to make up the ground that was lost in the disappointing month of January.
Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November 2020 and covers the New York Islanders. In addition to covering the Islanders, Fink has written for multiple sports blogs and platforms covering the NHL, NFL, MLB, and college sports. Follow Mike on Twitter @Finks_thoughts for more Islanders and general hockey insights.