Islanders Weekly is my series that looks at the performance and outlook of the New York Islanders. Every Thursday, Islanders Weekly will take a look at the week that was for the Islanders, highlighting key players and trends while looking at the road ahead.
Related: Last Week’s Islanders Weekly
The first week of Isles hockey is in the books, and the results were all over the place. They opened with two road games against the New York Rangers, followed by the home opener Monday against the Boston Bruins. The team looked like they did during their deep playoff run in the season opener, then looked lost in the second game of their series against the Rangers. The third game lacked offense for the majority but still saw the Isles look much more together than they did Saturday. With such a wide variety of results, there are some key points for the team to improve upon heading into week two.
The Islanders picked up where they left off last season in their opener against the Rangers, dominating for long stretches to the tune of a 4-0 victory. Semyon Varlamov was very solid, turning away all 24 shots he faced from the crosstown rivals. The Islanders benefitted from the lack of discipline shown by the Rangers, capitalizing two times on the eight power plays they had in the contest. Special teams looked especially strong for the Isles, who killed off all three penalties against in addition to converting twice with the extra man.
The game script flipped entirely when the teams matched up again on Saturday, with the Rangers controlling play and shutting the Isles down with a 5-0 victory. This was Ilya Sorokin’s NHL debut, and not one he planned on. A pregame injury to Varlamov forced the Russian phenom into action, and the Rangers capitalized.
The Rangers were the ones with eight power play opportunities this time around, but they were only able to convert on one of those chances. They outshot the Islanders 32-23, despite the Isles having the advantages in the faceoff circle, more hits and blocks, with 20 shots not making it to the net. The intangibles weren’t enough, as the Islanders were ultimately unable to beat Alexandar Georgiev, who has had success against them in recent years.
The third game of the opening week was the lowest scoring of the bunch and saw the Islanders emerge victorious over the Bruins 1-0. This contest looked primed for overtime, as chances were hard to come by, and neither goaltender looked ready to give anything up.
The game was scoreless until the last five minutes when Jean-Gabriel Pageau was finally able to find the back of the net. The Bruins came back firing but were unable to beat Varlamov, who returned from injury to post his second shutout in as many appearances to start the campaign. The Islanders were outshot again, this time by a 27-17 margin, but they got the bounce they needed to stay in the playoff race in the East Division after one week of play.
The Islanders have already had their fair share of injury scares, and we are only a week into the season. Varlamov was the first to go down, as he was struck up high by a warmup shot from Cal Clutterbuck prior to the matchup with the Rangers on Saturday. He was, however, able to return to action on Monday and looked exceptional again in shutting down the Bruins for his second shutout win of the young season.
Ryan Pulock also exited Saturday’s game after being hit with a shot in the first period. He was able to return to the game but needed stitches after the contest. The absence of Varlamov overshadowed Pulock’s exit, but Isles fans were certainly relieved to see him return to the game.
Wednesday’s practice also saw some new lines, as Kieffer Bellows moved up to Brock Nelson’s line to replace Josh Bailey. The longest-tenured Islander was held out of practice but should be ready for Thursday’s matchup with the New Jersey Devils (from ‘Islanders’ Andy Greene, Cory Schneider renew long-time acquaintances with Devils’, Newsday, 01/20/2021). Michael Dal Colle is still working his way back from injured reserve and should also be ready to go by Thursday.
Looking for More
Through the first three games, the Islanders have managed just five goals, two of which they scored on the power play. After scoring four times in the first two periods against the Rangers in the opener, the Isles only managed one goal in the next seven periods, including over six straight periods without a goal.
The goal-scoring concerns were evident last season, and the only difference now is a full season of Jean-Gabriel Pageau and the insertion of Bellows, at least for now. The expectation is for the third line to see some new faces every few games, and it might be time for head coach Barry Trotz to stick to his word. Week one saw Bellows and Ross Johnston on Pageau’s wing, with Oliver Wahlstrom and Leo Komarov waiting to make their season debuts while Dal Colle gets closer to returning.
The top two lines produced in the opener but were held in check over the next two games. Both even-strength goals in that game were scored by the top line, with both power play units converting. Pageau is the only goal-scorer outside of the top-six, though he would be in the top-six on plenty of other teams. Trotz may choose to mix some lines up, but it appears as though the third line is the one he is the most comfortable experimenting with. The team certainly has options and shouldn’t shy away from trying new pieces as the Isles starve for goal production.
Top Performers and the Week Ahead
- Anders Lee: 2 goals, 1 power-play goal
- Nick Leddy: 2 assists, 1 power-play assist
- Semyon Varlamov: 2 wins, 0.00 GAA, 1.000 SV%, 2 shutouts
The Week Ahead
- 1/21: vs New Jersey Devils
- 1/24: at New Jersey Devils
- 1/26: at Washington Capitals
*All stats came from Hockey-Reference