3 Takeaways from Islanders Preseason Loss to Rangers

The New York Islanders kicked off the 2022-23 NHL preseason with a 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. It’s difficult to glean anything definitive from the first game of the preseason with two teams of mixed rosters combining prospects and NHL veterans, but there were a few concerning moments for the Islanders that may have some fans worried following an uneventful offseason.

Romanov’s Islanders Debut

Alexander Romanov is the only significant addition to the Islanders’ roster heading into the season, and while he did show fans his ability to hit – even if it was questionable – he also showed a possible weakness. On a seemingly innocent play, star Rangers defender K’andre Miller, perhaps the best Ranger in this game, scooped up the puck in his own end, flying through the neutral zone. Romanov attempted to engage him at the Islanders’ blue line, only to be beaten quite easily to the outside by Miller.

Unfortunately, that was just the beginning. It wouldn’t be fair to blame Romanov for the goals against, but being on the ice for three of four Ranger goals isn’t the start he was hoping for. This was one of the main issues the Islanders dealt with last season with veteran Zdeno Chara: not being able to keep up with speedy players and often seen being beaten to the outside.

Romanov was paired with Noah Dobson, as many hoped and expected, and seemed to get a bit of trust from head coach Lane Lambert, who also made his Islanders debut in the loss to the Rangers. He recorded over 20 minutes of ice time, two of which were on the penalty kill, which could be an insight into how Lambert might use Romanov this season.

Varlamov’s Struggles

The Islanders have solid goaltending with Ilya Sorokin as the nearly proven number one. But after multiple solid seasons, Semyon Varlamov’s struggles from the 2021-22 season have carried over into the preseason. Again, this isn’t anything to take too seriously just yet, but something to keep an eye on as the preseason progresses.

Related: 5 Islanders Who Can Make or Break the 2022-23 Season

“Physically I felt good, but at the same time, feeling a little rusty,” Varlamov said after the game. “First game, what can I say, I gave up four goals. I’m not very happy about it, of course. Some moments I can play better, but it is what it is” (From ”Islanders plagued by familiar problem from last season in preseason loss,” New York Post, 9/26/22).

He allowed four goals on 20 shots through less than two periods, something Varlamov and the Islanders need to fix if they’re going to course correct after a poor 2021-22 season. Varlamov’s play following his recovery from an injury was part of the reason the Islanders struggled last season. If they are going to get back into the playoffs, they’re going to need him to have a bounce-back season, as he’s one of the players that could make or break the upcoming campaign.

Salo’s Offensive Impact

The Islanders needed to address a lot of roster issues this summer, and while many would suggest not enough was done, the defense will be shaken up considerably with at least two new members of the blue line. Romanov, despite his issues in the team’s first preseason game, is surely a lock for a spot in the top four. But the team’s sixth spot, presumably next to Scott Mayfield, is up for grabs. There are a number of players vying for it, and Robin Salo helped his case, at least a little, with his goal from the point against the Rangers last night.

Without Ryan Pulock in the lineup, Dobson was the lone offensive defenseman skating for the Islanders last night. Salo is still getting his feet wet, but he showed patience and poise leading up to the goal as he tried to find the best angle to get the puck to the net. It’s a good sign, albeit an early one, considering the Islanders’ struggles to score from the back-end last season. Pulock’s offense took a dip and the rest of the defense, save for Dobson, didn’t generate much.

It’s only one game and in the grand scheme of the season, one that will be forgotten fairly quickly. It’s clear there are items the team needs to address, like their special teams, but there shouldn’t be too much stock put into one preseason matchup against a good Rangers squad. We do, however, have a few items to keep an eye on as the preseason and training camp progresses, and – of course – as the regular season begins in a few weeks.

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