After a four-game road trip, the New York Islanders played two games at UBS Arena, desperate for wins to make up ground in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. The Islanders played a great game from the opening puck drop against the Boston Bruins, a 4-1 victory, but then fell flat against the Montreal Canadiens, who have the worst record in the NHL with only 10 wins on the season, losing 3-2 in a shootout.
The Islanders collected three points of a possible four in those consecutive home games and defeated one of the teams they hope to surpass in the playoff race – the Bruins. However, the team continues to struggle, and the Canadiens game was another tough loss in the same week that they lost to the Buffalo Sabres, another team they were expected to defeat. The Islanders have only won 18 of their 45 games and have looked promising at times but also showed weaknesses that could cost them a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Here are a few takeaways from the last two games.
Dobson & Nelson Provide Offense
Against the Bruins, Noah Dobson stepped up and continued to spark the offense from the blue line. Dobson fired a shot from the point that was redirected into the back of the net by center Jean-Gabriel Pageau to tie up the game. In the third period, the 22-year-old defenseman collected the puck and hesitated to open up a shooting lane to wrist the go-ahead goal to fuel the 4-1 win.
Dobson is becoming one of the best skating defensemen on the Islanders, creating turnovers in the neutral and defensive zone while effectively carrying the puck to start up the offense. But more importantly, he has established himself as the best scoring defenseman on the team. His eight goals are more than the rest of the defense combined, who have only scored six goals this season, and the 22-year-old’s 14 assists lead the unit as well.
Dobson opened up the offense, but the forward who carried the Islanders was Brock Nelson. Nelson contributed two points in the win over the Bruins – with an assist on Dobson’s goal and an empty-net goal – but lifted the Islanders in the final minutes against the Canadiens and helped the team earn a point in a game that looked all but lost. The puck was chipped into the offensive zone, and the 31-year-old forward outskated the opposing defensive pairing to set up the quick scoring chance and zipped the puck past Canadiens goaltender Andrew Hammond to force overtime.
The offense has struggled all season, scoring only 2.4 goals per game, and the forward unit has let the Islanders down. Nelson, however, has been one of the bright spots not only at creating scoring chances but finishing near the net with great shooting and scoring instincts. He has scored a team-leading 17 goals and continues to drive the second line and help out a struggling forward unit.
Sorokin Steps Up
Ilya Sorokin has already established himself as the Islanders’ goaltender this season, starting 32 of 45 games. His remarkable season has given the organization proof that they have their goaltender for the foreseeable future; he can keep the team in games even when the rest of the roster struggles. Sorokin saved 26 of the 27 shots against the Bruins and settled down after the first period to seal the victory. In his sixth consecutive start, the young goaltender put together a 25-save performance in the 3-2 shootout loss to the Canadiens. Montreal found plenty of chances to put the game away but were denied by the 26-year-old goaltender.
With Semyon Varlamov still out of the lineup – after testing positive for COVID-19 – the Islanders have had to rely on Sorokin to carry the team. He has only won two of the six games he’s started since returning from the All-Star break and faced a heavy workload but continued to play well. It’s unclear if the front office will move on from Varlamov at the trade deadline or in the offseason but knowing that the young goaltender can step up as the starter gives the team the option.
Islanders Poor Puck Management
A reoccurring issue throughout the season has been the Islanders’ puck management, especially in the defensive zone. The loss to the Canadiens only highlighted the issue as they turned over the puck multiple times, allowing their opponent to maintain possession and, more importantly, find the back of the net twice on quick shots. The defensive unit has been a strength for the team since Barry Trotz took over as the head coach, and the ability to create turnovers is a primary factor in the team’s success. Unfortunately, the defensive unit is slower and struggling to transition to offense, creating a great liability on the roster and leaving the team on the outside of the playoff picture.
Other Islanders Takeaways from the Home Games
Kyle Palmieri has struggled immensely this season with one goal and six assists through the first 29 games of the season. However, recent games have been a promising sign for Palmieri as he is generating shots and collecting loose pucks in the offensive zone, scoring three goals in the last three games as a result. Likewise, Kieffer Bellows has stepped up on the wing in Josh Bailey and Oliver Wahlstrom‘s absence, creating chances and carrying the puck to the net, making a strong case for Trotz and the coaching staff to keep him in the lineup moving forward.
The Islanders’ next two games will be on the road against two struggling Pacific Division teams in the Seattle Kraken and the San Jose Sharks. Following the upset loss to the Canadiens, the Islanders aren’t going to take the next two games lightly, especially given the urgency to pile on the wins to finish off the month strong.
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.