If there was one instance that could define the month of March for the New York Islanders, it would have to be the moment that Anders Lee went down with a torn ACL in the game against the New Jersey Devils. There were a lot of big moments in the past month of games, but when the captain was sidelined with a season-ending injury, the roster was greatly affected.
The grades for the past month reflect a team that was unbeatable to start the month, as part of a nine-game winning streak, that also had to constantly adjust their lineup to injuries and COVID protocols (Noah Dobson’s absence being the most prominent). The Islanders still boast one of the best teams and record in the MassMutual East Division and the NHL, and the past month reflected the team’s ability to continue to win games despite the obstacles.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau: A
Jean-Gabriel Pageau has continued to provide the Islanders with scoring depth as the third-line scorer is among the team leaders in goals with 13 on the season thus far. While he was quiet in terms of finding the back of the net, with only three goals in the past month, the Islanders could still rely on the 28-year-old center to provide offensive production, with eight assists in the past month of action.
The Islanders have gotten more than enough value since acquiring the third-line center over a year ago from the Senators and the hope is that the strong play from the 28-year-old scorer continues as the team enters the home stretch of the season.
Brock Nelson: A
Brock Nelson has helped fill the void of Lee’s absence as a constant second-line scorer for the Islanders. In the month of March, Nelson scored six goals in the past month, including five in four games. While he trailed off in the latter half of the month, the team was still able to find offensive production as the 29-year-old forward continued to be an offensive presence and dish out three assists in the final five games of March to cap off a strong overall month.
Oliver Wahlstrom: A
Oliver Wahlstrom has not only been one of the best young skaters on the Islanders, but he has also been one of the best young skaters in the NHL this season. Playing on the second or third line often, he scored six goals in the month of March and was a constant scoring threat, whether it was skating past the defense or sniping a shot past the goaltender with great accuracy. The 20-year-old forward is going to be a pivotal part of the Islanders team not just moving forward in this season, but in the years to come.
Scott Mayfield – Nick Leddy: A-
The Islanders defense has continued to prove that it is one of the best units in the NHL, and the past month was no exception as the unit not only showed great play in their top two pairings, but also on the back end with Noah Dobson out for the second half of the month’s games. The pairing of Scott Mayfield and Nick Leddy is often regarded as the worse pairing from a defensive perspective and understandably so. However, the past month saw both players impress on the defensive side and continue to make their mark on the offensive end.
Mayfield has led the Islanders in blocked shots this season with 74 and has constantly been able to break up scoring chances for opponents while creating offense the other way. Leddy, meanwhile, is known for his ability to create from the point and is one of the team’s best offensive defensemen — a team-leading 24 assists are putting him on pace for a career year.
Mathew Barzal – Jordan Eberle: B+
Both Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle can be easily linked to the Lee injury, as both skaters have seen their usual production dwindle in the past month. Barzal and Eberle tend to feed off their own playmaking ability with the help of Lee’s passing and goal-scoring instincts. With the captain out of the lineup, both skaters have failed to be as dominant on offense as usual, with the duo only scoring five goals in the last month.
Barzal had a hat trick in the April 1 game against the Washington Capitals and Eberle found the back of the net twice in the eight-goal victory as well, indicating that the top line has found their offensive rhythm again. The void in production, however, was a reminder of the importance of a top scorer and more importantly, showed the need for the Islanders to try to find a skater that can help create scoring opportunities on the top line to complement the talent already there.
Adam Pelech – Ryan Pulock: B+
The top pairing for the Islanders defense has once again provided the team with a great overall unit, arguably one of the best defenses in the NHL. The duo has combined for 5.3 defensive point shares and 116 blocked shots. More importantly, they are constantly in position, more than capable of creating turnovers in the defensive zone, and eliminate rushes from the blue line.
In addition to the duo’s strong play defensively, Pelech and Pulock have continued to play well on the offensive end as well, combining for eight assists in the past month. While not being great on the offensive end per se, the duo being able to send pucks to the net has been very important for an offense that hasn’t played as well since losing Lee.
Anthony Beauvillier: B+
Anthony Beauvillier has truly emerged as one of the Islanders’ top scorers over the past month. With the team searching for second- and third-line scorers, he was able to score a goal in four straight games at the end of the month helping the team win three critical games in the process. The 23-year-old scorer is continuing to play better with each game and provides the Islanders with a younger group of scorers, which should help the team moving forward.
Semyon Varlamov – Ilya Sorokin: B
The Islanders have continued to get good play from their goaltending duo in Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin. The important note from the past month has been the emergence of Sorokin, who has not only started to split starts with Varlamov, but has been a viable starter for the Islanders, who can now turn to two goaltenders on any given night. The 25-year-old goaltender did surrender three goals in a win against the Devils and four goals in a defeat against the Pittsburgh Penguins (arguably his worst start of the season), but other than that has been great in the net.
Varlamov, meanwhile, has continued to be a wall in the goal. While the 32-year-old goaltender had a rough patch where he allowed 11 goals in three starts in the middle of the month and the conversation of him winning the Vezina Trophy has long since been discarded, the Islanders can still rely on their starting goaltender to provide the team with great performance where he potentially shuts out many of the opponents.
Sebastian Aho: B-
Sebastian Aho only played three games this past month as part of the third pairing for the Islanders defensively with Dobson missing a significant number of games. However, in the short amount of time that Aho was there, his impact was clearly felt and he helped fill the void left on the Islanders’ back end, while also netting a goal and an assist in the process. While two of the three games that Aho played in resulted in losses, his skating ability and defensive improvement has to be kept in mind for the coaching staff and the front office moving forward.
Matt Martin – Casey Cizikas – Cal Clutterbuck: C+
Known as the “Identity Line” for the Islanders, the fourth line has shown that, when they are clicking, they can provide a strong scoring presence and help win plenty of games as a result. Unfortunately, when the fourth line fails to establish a scoring presence and doesn’t create opportunities, the shift becomes a liability. The line combined for nine goals the past month and while the three skaters don’t receive much time on the ice (which makes the number more impressive), they were also affected by the Lee injury, only scoring three goals since the roster shakeup. The fourth line was able to take advantage of the easy schedule at the beginning of the month, but also have not found the same opportunities with opponents not fearing the top line as they used to.
Andy Greene: C
Andy Greene has been a reliable veteran defenseman that has continued to play well for the Islanders defense, and more importantly has had the responsibility of playing alongside various defensemen that were thrown into the fire because of Dobson’s time on the COVID-19 list. Greene continues to prove that he still has the capabilities of being a good defenseman, boasting 2.2 defensive point shares and 67 blocked shots on the season.
However, it has been clear in watching the 38-year-old defenseman that he has lost a step and can be seen outskated by his opponents. Likewise, he can be seen on the ice in the wrong place for a goal being scored, not because of instincts rather he’s just not being able to make the plays he used to. In addition, while defensemen shouldn’t be measured by their defensive capabilities, Greene has only assisted one three goals this season and didn’t record a point in the month of March. It’s clear that the veteran is a pure defenseman who gives value to the team and will be crucial for the Islanders moving forward.
Thomas Hickey: C
Thomas Hickey played for the first time this past month. While he has only played five games for the Islanders, he was able to help fill the void and proved that he could keep the puck out of the net in the time he was starting. The 31-year-old defensemen played well on the defensive end, helping the team win three games in his time there and also netted two assists in the process. While it’s unlikely the late-pairing defenseman is going to be part of the team in the final stretch of the season, it was reassuring to see how the Islanders were able to display their depth, especially on defense.
Josh Bailey: C-
Josh Bailey has been one of the more disappointing players for the Islanders this season. Failing to generate much offense on the second or third line, the 31-year-old skater only scored three goals in the past month. Despite having 18 assists on the season, he is forcing the Islanders coaching staff to constantly search for the right skaters to play on the same shift as him. Bailey continuing to struggle has truly cost the team in recent games, and will ultimately hurt moving forward as the offense needs to find scoring in all their lines. While they have for the majority of the season, the upcoming stretch is going to be all the more important for there to be scoring depth.
Michael Dal Colle – Leo Komarov: C-
Throughout the season, it has become clear for Barry Trotz that both Leo Komarov and Michael Dal Colle are able to provide a spark in the few minutes that they are both on the ice. Neither skater is averaging more than 13 minutes on the ice per game and they are both rotated for other skaters like Kieffer Bellows or Ross Johnston in that depth role.
Komarov has yet to score on the season, and while he has four assists, the 34-year-old skater is often relied upon to simply give a boost to his line with a big hit or a scoring opportunity, rather than be a scoring presence himself. Dal Colle, meanwhile, is still finding a way to make his mark for the Islanders and the 20-year-old forward is developing into a potential scoring threat. Unfortunately for him, a lower-body injury ended his month a few games early and as a result, he couldn’t continue to find any rhythm for the team — a true shame since he scored his first goal of the season in the game against the Philadelphia Flyers on March 18.
What to Watch Out for in April
The final full month of the regular season is already proving to be a significant and successful month for the Islanders thus far. The team has started a critical stretch with two games against the Capitals, who are neck and neck for the top record in the MassMutual East Division, and won both games in two completely different manners (an 8-4 scoring spree on April 1 and a 1-0 hard-hitting game on April 5).
The Islanders front office is well aware of the void left by their captain being on long-term injured reserve and it will be important to see who, if anyone, is going to be acquired at the trade deadline. Needless to say, the last full month of action is going to be great to watch with a team that looks poised to potentially make a deep run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
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.