The New York Islanders lost to the Minnesota Wild 4-3 for their second straight loss and 22nd on the season. The Islanders have won 15 of 37 games, and this latest loss set them back as they try to make up ground in the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
The game continued to expose the underlying issues that head coach Barry Trotz and his staff need to address if they are going to make a playoff push. However, the Islanders did have some key players who stepped up and, despite the loss, proved they have the pieces in place to turn the season around.
Islanders Slow Starts
A reoccurring issue throughout the season has been the Islanders’ slow starts. Whether it’s an early penalty or allowing too many early scoring chances against, which forces their goaltender to step up and keep the game in hand.
The Wild have the offense to take advantage of the Islanders’ slow starts, and that’s what happened. The Wild found the back of the net twice in the first five minutes with goals from Brandon Duhaime and Joel Eriksson Ek as their potent offense attacked the net early and often. The Islanders outplayed their opponent the rest of the game, cutting the deficit in half by the end of the first period and losing by one goal, but trailing early likely cost them another game.
The Casey Cizikas, Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Martin line usually takes the opening faceoff in the hopes of a strong start. Cizikas was a late scratch, which allowed the Wild to gain control of the puck and establish their offense, with the Islanders missing one of their best defensive forwards who can create turnovers in the offensive zone. However, New York has struggled to control a game throughout the season, and the team’s success will hinge on their ability to gain control in the first period.
Islanders Shots on Net
The Islanders had 43 shots on the net, 22 more than their opponent and the most of any game this season. Defenseman Noah Dobson led the team with seven shots on goal, while Mathew Barzal and Anders Lee combined for 11 shots on the top line. Unfortunately, Wild goaltender Kappo Kahkonen stepped up, making 40 saves to preserve the Wild’s lead and helping his team win their fifth consecutive game.
The Islanders created scoring chances throughout the game and generated shots on net. Despite the loss, their offense stepped up, establishing a strong offensive zone presence and made the game close; it’s a good sign for the second half of the season. The offense has struggled in 2021-22 largely because of their inability to generate effective shots, but more aggressive play, especially from the point, is helping them turn their season around.
Brock Nelson started the Islanders’ hopeful comeback to close out the first period. His goal came from the slot as the Islanders started to attack the net, and the veteran forward collected the puck and caught Kahkonen out of position with a low shot. The 30-year-old forward scored his 14th goal of the season – he leads the team in that category – and he continues to take advantage of chances around the net with great puck movement in the offensive zone. After scoring one goal in the final minutes in a 3-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings, New York’s offense rebounded against the Wild, and the veteran forward kickstarted it. He remains a pivotal part of the forward unit’s success this season.
Other Islanders Notes from the Recent Loss
Ross Johnston wasn’t going to start until Cizikas was ruled out. The 27-year-old forward took advantage of a misplayed puck by the Wild and scored his first goal of the season on a breakaway. While Johnston isn’t a regular team, his ability to make an impact in a limited role gives his team an advantage, especially with the tight schedule of games ahead.
Late in the game, Oliver Wahlstrom found the back of the net for his ninth goal of the season, and the 21-year-old forward continues to make an impact with accurate shooting and great skating on the wing.
The Islanders play the Ottawa Senators and the Seattle Kraken in their next two games before the All-Star break. With both games being at UBS Arena following consecutive losses, the Islanders will need to take advantage of two struggling opponents as they try to climb the Metropolitan standings.
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.