The New York Islanders played back-to-back games at UBS Arena as part of a seven-game homestand before the All-Star break. The Islanders defeated the Ottawa Senators 4-1 but then fell flat against the Seattle Kraken, losing 3-0 in a devastating loss to close out the first half of the season.
Entering the All-Star break, the Islanders have won 16 of their 39 games. The team is in sixth place in the Metropolitan Division and 11th in the Eastern Conference. The recent games showed promise within the Islanders roster and keys to a successful second half of the season but likewise, exposed underlying issues that have set the team back and could ultimately cost a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Islanders Defense Steps Up
Against the Senators, Scott Mayfield collected the puck at the blue line and sent a cross-ice pass to Mathew Barzal to score the third goal for the Islanders, allowing the team to boast a 3-1 lead entering the third period. Mayfield was only heating up from the point as he connected with his defensive pair, Adam Pelech who was skating to the net to score the fourth goal for the team.
The Mayfield-Pelech pairing has been the top pairing for the Islanders throughout the season and head coach Barry Trotz choose to keep the pairing intact even with the return of Ryan Pulock. Normally, Pulock and Pelech would play alongside one another but keeping the top pairing together gave the Islanders a deeper defensive unit that allowed the team to prevent the Senators’ offense from creating scoring chances.
Along with the play from the point, the Islanders’ defensive unit stepped up against the Senators and the Kraken. The defensemen created turnovers and limited shots on the net, allowing both games to remain low-scoring. More importantly, with the return of Pulock, the unit is now one of the best in the NHL and looks to lead the Islanders’ turnaround on the season.
Sorokin & Strong Goaltending
Ilya Sorokin got the start in the net against the Senators and allowed a goal less than two minutes into the game. After the early goal where a Nick Holden shot bounced off of Sorokin’s shoulder and into the back of the net, the young goaltender put together a remarkable performance. The 26-year-old goaltender made 26 saves in the 4-1 win for the Islanders and boasts a .924 save percentage and a 2.31 goals-against average on 778 shots for the season.
Against the Kraken, Semyon Varlamov got the start. With the offense struggling and failing to score with only 19 shots on the net, Varlamov stepped up and kept the game close, and held the Kraken scoreless until the third period. The 33-year-old goaltender saved 28 of the 30 shots and oftentimes bailed the defensive unit out from mistakes in the defensive zone to keep the game close.
The Islanders goaltending duo stood out once again in consecutive games and continues to be a strength of the roster. With the intense schedule ahead, notably with the Islanders scheduled to play 27 games in the next two months, the ability to split starts between Sorokin and Varlamov will be crucial to the team’s success. A healthy, well-rested, and potent goaltending duo gives the team a much-needed advantage as they make a push for the playoffs.
Inconsistency in the Islanders’ Forward Unit
The Islanders’ offense has struggled all season, scoring only 2.3 goals per game. However, the recent games provided hope as the forward unit stepped up and scored three goals or more in consecutive games against the Minnesota Wild and the Senators. Moreover, after scoring four goals against the Senators, a team that allows 3.7 goals per game the expectation was for the Islanders to run up the score against a Kraken team that allows 3.5 goals per game.
Instead, the forward unit played arguably its worst game of the season, struggling to create scoring chances, establish a strong offensive zone presence, and generate shots on the net, resulting in a 3-0 shutout loss. The Islanders’ ability to turn around the season hinged on the offense’s ability to continue to find the back of the net and the team struggling in another loss only sets them back further.
Other Notes from the Islanders Recent Games
Kraken goaltender Philipp Grubauer has struggled this season, with a save percentage under .900 and a goals-against average of over 3.00 on 869 shots. However, against the Islanders, Grubauer proved why he was a Vezina Trophy finalist last season as he stepped up in the net and blanked the shots on the net, and eliminated second-chance opportunities.
The Islanders enter the All-Star break with a tough path to the playoffs. The team has only played 39 games, the fewest of any team in the NHL, and will make up the games in the second half of the season but many of their opponents are currently in the playoffs or near the top of the Eastern Conference. Ultimately, the Islanders will be an intriguing team to watch as they continue to improve and fight for a playoff spot.
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.