The New York Islanders stumbled into the All-Star break, going 6-7-2 over their last 15 games. For a team expected to compete for the Stanley Cup, the Islanders must play better, and that starts with the player personnel. They do not have one of the more talented rosters in the NHL and rely on an “all hands on deck” mentality to win games. With a little over 30 games remaining and the playoff push about to begin, who should fans look out for?
Semyon Varlamov was given the starting goalie position about three weeks ago, but his recent poor play has complicated the Islanders’ goaltending situation. The rotation is back on and Thomas Greiss started the last two games before the break. If all goes according to plan, the Islanders’ brass would love for Varlamov to take over the net. Greiss is a free agent after the season, and it’s extremely unlikely that he’ll re-sign, considering Ilya Sorokin is likely to jump over from the KHL during the offseason. Varlamov is locked up long-term, and there’s no point giving playing-time to the guy that will be leaving in just a few months.
The Islanders’ mantra is their defense and goaltending. Semyon Varlamov has a ton of talent and could take the starting position for good with a strong start after the break. When he’s “on,” he’s one of the best players in the league at his position, but has strung together too many poor starts in recent weeks. Many Islanders fans wanted him to be named an All-Star after Joonas Korpisalo’s injury, but a slow January ruined his momentum.
In the first three months of the season, he was statistically one of the best goalies in the NHL, yet had a .900 save percentage and a 3.00 goals against average in January. In the Barry Trotz era, the Islanders are 63-4-4 when they score three or more goals. In January, three goals were rarely enough with Varlamov in net. The playoff push is on, and he will play a key role in leading the Islanders back into the dance. The opportunity is there for the taking; it’s just a matter of if he’ll take advantage?
With every game, Noah Dobson has looked more comfortable in the NHL. He’s starting to display his skating abilities and is no longer afraid to jump up into the play. He was drafted as an offensive defenseman with an insane hockey IQ. However, he is still just a rookie and does not have experience in the NHL playoffs.
Many analysts have discussed the Islanders trading for a veteran defenseman at the trade deadline with Adam Pelech out for the season. Until then, Dobson has an opportunity to prove to Lou Lamoriello that he can play in big-game moments. With 12 games remaining before the Feb. 24 deadline, fans should watch out for Dobson.
As an unrestricted free agent, Derick Brassard was brought in as a third-line center. So far, he’s proven to be a better fit on the wing alongside Brock Nelson and Anthony Beauvillier. After a hot month of November, he only has seven points and one goal. Ideally, he’d be better suited on a bottom-six role but is relied upon to do much more. After signing a one-year deal, Brassard knows that he’ll be under the microscope with teams interested in him. He did not get a big deal during the offseason and will look to get a larger contract this time around. He’s a streaky player that can go on major runs while cooling off for months at a time. If there’s a player that’s due for a scoring run, it’s him.
Brassard has not looked like himself since November, Varlamov is coming off his worst month as an Islander, and Dobson is in a fight to convince management he deserves to play in big games. These players need to produce and fans should keep a spotlight on their output. The playoff push is officially upon us — who will step up?