The New York Islanders lost consecutive games on the Florida road trip with a 4-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning and a brutal 6-1 loss to the Florida Panthers where they trailed 4-0 at the end of the first period. The losses cap off a rough end to the 13 game road trip to start the season as the Islanders are currently on a four-game losing streak where they have been outscored 19-4, leaving the team with only five wins to start the season.
The Islanders will finally play their first home game in their upcoming game but with the worst record in the Metropolitan Division, there is a sense of urgency to pile on the wins and make up ground from a slow start. Moreover, the recent losses leave the Islanders with some concerning takeaways as they were outplayed and outmatched on the ice in the past two games in particular.
The Islanders Failed to Control the Center of the Defensive Zone
Noah Dobson missed the game against the Lightning and Ryan Pulock missed the Panthers game with a lower-body injury. Both Dobson and Pulock have been two of the best Islanders defensemen this season and have been creating turnovers in the defensive zone with strong play in both passing and shooting lanes alike while also gathering loose pucks and helping the team transition to offense.
The absence of both Islanders defensemen was prevalent but regardless, the play from the team in the defensive zone was concerning. The Islanders allowed both the Lightning and the Panthers not only to find shots near the net but plenty of second-chance opportunities for goals with loose pucks in the center of the defensive zone. The defensive unit carried the team last season and has been the strength of the roster in the first 13 games but the recent losses are a reminder that the unit will need to step up in the upcoming games and clear pucks that are lingering near the goal.
Islanders Line Shuffling Continues
The Islanders’ offense has struggled and the past four games have been no exception as the team is averaging a goal per game. Against the Lightning, head coach Barry Trotz moved Kyle Palmieri to the same line as Brock Nelson and Anthony Beauvillier while moving Zach Parise to the same line as Mathew Barzal and Anders Lee, resulting in a Barzal goal in the first period off a Parise pass but a scoreless effort otherwise. Against the Panthers, Josh Bailey was a late scratch as he entered the Covid-19 protocols and the forward lines continued to shuffle with Kieffer Bellows, who played in his second consecutive game, play alongside Nelson and Beauvillier.
The team has mixed and matched their forward lines since the first game and the injuries have forced the coaching staff to break up some of the shifts that have been pivotal to the Islanders’ success in recent seasons. It might take all season for the Islanders to find the optimal forward lines but with the offense looking hapless recently, there is more of an urgency to put together a forward unit that can find goals throughout the lineup.
The Islanders Are A Fatigued Roster
The Islanders have one of the oldest rosters in the NHL with an average age of 29.8 leaving the Dallas Stars as the only team with an average age that is older. The aging roster could be an explanation for the team being outskated and beaten to the puck constantly in the last two games and could be a grim warning for the season to come. However, the Islanders played their final game of a 13 game road trip to start the season and the recent games, in particular, took their toll on the team. With a few days off and the homestand up next, the roster should be rejuvenated and more importantly, ready for a midseason push, which happened last year after winning only three of their first nine games.
What the Islanders Need To Takeaway From The Defeats?
The Islanders will play their first home game of the season against the Calgary Flames, a team that has played great on both ends of the ice and looks poised to finish near the top of the Pacific Division this season. The matchup against the Flames will require great play at the blue line to limit the speed of the opposing forward but also require the backend of the forward unit, which has struggled lately, to overwhelm goaltender Jacob Markstrom. The next night, the Islanders face the Toronto Maple Leafs who have hit their stride recently following significant line changes of their own and will provide a tough matchup as well. The schedule isn’t going to be any easier but the games at home should give the team an advantage as they try to rebound from the rough start.
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.