The New York Islanders have won five of their last six games and have earned a point in each of their last eight games. Recently, they won back-to-back games against the Buffalo Sabres with 3-1 and 3-0 victories and the team looks similar to the one that reached the Eastern Conference Final last season. The defense and goaltending duo of Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin played lights out, with Sorokin earning his first win and a shutout in the process.
The sweep of the Sabres displayed the great play on the defensive side but moreover, we continue to see the scoring depth surge, a trait that has helped the Islanders win the last two games and look like one of the best teams in the East Division since returning to action on Feb. 6.
The Fourth Line Has Stepped Up
Throughout the winning streak, the Islanders have seen their scoring depth displayed and the showcase of the depth has been on the fourth line. In the month of January, Cal Clutterbuck, Casey Cizikas, and Matt Martin seemed invisible but now are giving the scoring lineup a deep attack that has forced opposing defenses to play well against the entire lineup. The fourth line failed to score in Buffalo but their presence has been felt in the hot streak and looks to be a force moving forward.
The fourth line scored four goals since the Islanders returned to action on Feb. 6, with Cizikas scoring twice. While four goals might not be a lot for a line, considering that this is the fourth line, the boost is pivotal for any team that has aspirations of making a deep playoff run. Moreover, the fourth line has been able to continuously generate pressure and opportunities in front of the net and has given head coach Barry Trotz the ability to rest the other lines without worrying about a drop-off.
Eberle Paired With Nelson’s Style Has Been the Right Call
Jordan Eberle is a top-line skater and has been for most of his career with his ability to find the back of the net. However, the first month of the season saw the Islanders finding a surplus of production in their top line but the rest of the lineup was struggling, making Eberle a perfect fit in the second line. His style of play has worked well with Brock Nelson’s, with both skaters constantly finding ways to get in front of the net and drive to the net with the puck.
Along with Michael Dal Colle, the second line has scored four goals since the adjustment. Once again four goals won’t seem like much for a line that has been together for a few weeks but the change is more about balance than efficiency. Prior to the changes, the Islanders were struggling to find scoring outside the top line but now have seen goal-scoring from each of their four forward lines. In addition, the Islanders have moved Josh Bailey, who was struggling early on, to the top line with Mathew Barzal and Ander Lee, who has been able to see more opportunities with Barzal’s ability to create space on the ice and Lee’s overall offensive play.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau Is On Fire
While the second line has gotten a boost from Eberle being moved and the fourth line has been more productive lately with Clutterbuck, Martin, and Cizikas all playing better, the third line has been carried by the uncanny scoring ability of Jean-Gabriel Pageau. Pageau seemed to fall off a bit with the rest of the team during the skid at the end of January but has since rebounded and has been one of the best players for the Islanders, scoring five goals in the last four games. Whether it’s crowding the net to redirect shots from the point or sharp-angle shots sneaking past the opposing goalie, the third line scorer is singlehandedly helping the later line scoring.
Along With the Depth, the Top Line Still Leads the Way
The Islanders have been finding goals throughout their lineup during the hot streak and we see the similar depth that took the team to the Eastern Conference Final the year before. While it’s easy to notice the coaching adjustments that have helped the recent surge, the top line is continuing to impress.
The Islanders have seen Barzal continuing to show why he is a great scorer with his skating speed and ability to create open voids in the defense while Lee has continued to find the back of the net, including two goals in the recent 3-0 victory against the Sabres and three goals in the last two games. It will be interesting to see how the offense looks going forward, especially if one of the lines starts to struggle, it should come as no surprise if this is only the beginning of the adjustments in a long season.