The New York Islanders are an excellent team but are playing abysmal hockey of late on the road. They are coming off a 3-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues in overtime, where they managed a combined five shots on goal in the final 45:25 of the game. The losing streak away from home is five as they lost all four games on their previous road trip against the Nashville Predators, Vegas Golden Knights, Arizona Coyotes, and Colorado Avalanche averaging 0.5 goals per game.
They also had a stretch earlier in the year where they were swept in California against the San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks. They only scored two goals in the three games, with one going into overtime. With the Islanders struggling to maintain a playoff spot, they are almost certainly going to need to win a playoff series without home-ice advantage.
Lack of Scoring
The Islanders played four of the five road games before the trade deadline and the acquisition of Jean-Gabriel Pageau. The only goals New York scored on their four-game trip came from two of their best players this season in Anthony Beauvillier and Brock Nelson. Pageau then scored in their last game against the Blues along with Jordan Eberle as New York has been not able to get any secondary scoring in these games.
One of the major issues has been head coach Barry Trotz has yet to figure out who he wants to play consistently. He seems to be rotating Tom Kuhnakhl, Ross Johnston, and either Andrew Ladd or Kieffer Bellows in the final spot. However, other than Bellows, the Islanders have received nearly nothing from any of the other three players. They end up with either one or two shifts in the final frame forcing Mat Barzal to play over 20 minutes every night.
The Islanders are also without two-thirds of their fourth line in Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck (from ‘Islanders’ Casey Cizikas will be out 3-4 weeks with leg injury’ New York Post, 02/13/2020). The lone remaining player on that line is Matt Martin, who has not been able to generate much without his linemates. Both Martin and Johnston play too similar of a game for them to both play especially with rookies like Michael Dal Colle and Otto Koivula in the lineup who haven’t produced any offense.
Third Period Struggles
The Islanders have mostly been playing from behind on the road, and by doing so, they have struggled to generate any offense in third periods. They get outplayed even when they are down a goal and can’t hold leads. They have given up the game-tying or winning goal five times this season under two minutes left in regulation. Despite Trotz wanting to roll out four lines all the time, he is unable to do that when he has four to five players that are not bringing any offense to the table.
The only area that is not struggling has been the goaltending. They continue to keep the Islanders in games. Both Semyon Varlamov and Thomas Greiss each went through a rough stretch in January where they were allowing soft goals, but have been getting no help from the players in front of them. Unfortunately, the Islanders lost Adam Pelech to a season-ending Achilles injury, and his replacement, Andy Greene, is also out with an injury. It is forcing Trotz to play only four-to-five defenseman in the third period. During the playoffs, it is much easier to do something like that as the season is on the line, but after such a busy month of February, New York needs to be able to play all six defenders.
Despite the success they have dumping the puck in and chasing, when the Islanders play their whole shift in the defensive zone, they can’t pursue the puck once they dump it in because they need to change. Somehow, New York is going to need to find ways to get some offensive zone time in third periods. It seems like there are games when the final frame takes forty minutes, but that is because of their inability to control the puck.
Fortunately for the Islanders, they will have their next game at home as they send Butch Goring’s number to the rafters on Saturday against the Boston Bruins. They recently did that with John Tonelli and had an energized crowd in their 2-1 win. However, they will only play their next two games at home and still have a west coast trip to Western Canada to face the Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers. The one significant advantage they do have going for them is they have their final three games of the season at home.
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Matt Rothman is a 2018 graduate from Florida Gulf Coast University receiving his bachelor degree in journalism. Originally from Long Island, he moved to Parkland shortly after high school. Matt worked as the assistant sports editor for his school paper, eaglenews.com in college becoming just one of nine students in his graduation class to serve over 1,000 community service hours. His goal is to travel to every Major League Baseball stadium, and has been to multiple US Open finals.