The New York Islanders are coming off back-to-back games as part of their 13 consecutive road games to start the season. They defeated the Winnipeg Jets 2-0 on Saturday, then lost to the Minnesota Wild 5-2 on Sunday, but the score fails to tell the full story in a game that was more competitive than the three-goal defeat implies.
The two games were against two of the best opponents the Islanders have faced this season, with difficult matchups. Splitting the two games offers plenty of takeaways and what the team will look like as the season progresses.
Islanders Forwards Offensive Zone Pressure
Their performance against the Jets built on the 6-2 victory against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday when the Islanders forwards created timely turnovers from the opposition. New York’s forwards were often forced to chip the puck into the offensive zone (rather than effectively set up the offense), but with a strong forecheck, they created turnovers to set up the offense at will against the Jets and control the game. Led by the fourth line, the Islanders have effectively applied pressure on any defensive pairing on the chip and chase and with strong play along the boards to keep the puck in the zone, keeping the momentum in every game.
Anders Lee Finding His Spot
After only scoring one goal in the first seven games, Anders Lee has scored three goals in the last two games and was one of their best skaters in the offensive zone. Two goals came from the center of the zone, and Lee took advantage of his skills and instincts, finding the back of the net off of centering passes and second-chance scoring opportunities.
After struggling to start the season, the last two games were a reminder that the veteran forward is still a good player, and the top line will find the back of the net this season. Lee is at his best near the net, where he can benefit from Mathew Barzal’s ability to draw skaters and receive an open pass, which resulted in his third goal of the weekend after he received a Barzal pass off an odd-man rush. After missing the second half of last season with a torn ACL, Lee looks ready to start piling on the goals as a pivotal member of the team’s offensive production.
Islanders Neutral Zone Play
The Islanders faced two of the NHL’s best teams at creating chances off an odd-man rush, but they prevented both teams from finding scoring opportunities and cross-ice passes. New York’s defensemen created turnovers in the neutral zone and kept up with the speed of their opponent, whether it was Adam Pelech or Zdeno Chara. They played disciplined defense at the blue line. Granted, the Wild found scoring opportunities in the third period against the Isles’ fatigued defensemen, but for most of the two games, defense quickly turned into offense.
Sorokin & Varlamov a Strong Goaltending Duo
Ilya Sorokin continued to be dominant against the Jets, saving 24 shots for his third shutout of the season. Throughout the game, he eliminated second-chance opportunities and easy shots on goal for one of the best offenses in the NHL. Sorokin has a .939 save percentage and a 1.98 goals-against average on 294 shots, and after an unprecedented workload, has made a strong early case for the Vezina Trophy.
Semyon Varlamov made his much-awaited debut against the Wild and reminded everyone that the Islanders have a solid goaltending duo that can help the team to a deep Stanley Cup Playoff run. Varlamov faced 37 shots and constant pressure from quick shots on net but made 34 saves and held Minnesota to one goal through the first two periods. There were a few shots that the 33-year-old would like to have back, especially the third goal when the puck zipped past his glove, but his performance was still good and will allow head coach Barry Trotz to confidently and comfortably rotate their two goaltenders throughout the season.
Islanders Other Notes from the Games
Unlike the Canadiens, the Wild and Jets are among the best teams in the league. These two opponents will finish near the top of the Western Conference, given the talent of their rosters. The Islanders outplayed the Jets from the opening puck drop and held a 2-1 lead against the Wild until the team fell apart in the final period. Ultimately, the Islanders continue to prove on this long road trip that they match up against any team on the schedule and can beat them.
Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November 2020 and covers the New York Islanders for The Hockey Writers. In addition to covering the Islanders, Fink has written for multiple sports blogs and platforms covering the NHL, NFL, MLB, and college sports.