The New York Islanders continued their slide into the depths of the Eastern Conference standings this last week, winning just one game against the New Jersey Devils. Two gut-punch losses add to fans’ frustrations as the team makes an attempt at turning its season around, one that is getting harder and harder to grasp onto. Now with Mathew Barzal, the team’s lone pure superstar, out of the lineup for at least another week, they’ll have to dig deep to get themselves back into the playoff conversation. No one is coming to help, though the rumors continue to float around about what general manager Lou Lamoriello may be thinking. Let’s dive in.
Barzal’s Absence a Major Issue for Islanders
There’s not a lot the Islanders, or any other team, can do as COVID-19 cuts a path of destruction through the NHL and much of professional sports over the last week. More and more teams are losing players, and the Islanders are now battling for the second time, though they’ve been lucky to contain the outbreak this time around. That leaves the team to deal with it themselves. Their “next man up” mentality only works if players step up — a real struggle for the Islanders this season. Players like Anthony Beauvillier, who found himself in the press box over the last week for a game, have remained inconsistent this season, a carryover from years past.
It’s difficult, and likely wrong, to pin the team’s slide into obscurity on just one player, but the Islanders have been waiting for Beauvillier to break out for years. Head coach Barry Trotz is right — Beauvillier, 24 — is still young, but as he also mentions he is a veteran at this point (he’ll play his 356th career game against the Boston Bruins on Thursday and is the seventh-longest tenured player on the current roster). Articles pointed to him for a number of seasons, including here on The Hockey Writers, as a player not only poised for a big season but as a necessary part of the success of this team moving forward.
With Beauvillier’s flat play, along with Kyle Palmieri’s sluggish start, youngster Oliver Wahlstrom’s up and down season, Josh Bailey’s iffy plays, and constant defensive lapses — with or without star defender Ryan Pulock — the team is desperate for someone to take the reins other than Ilya Sorokin. Barzal’s absence underscores the importance of the team’s “all for one” mentality, but the problem is, they’re seemingly always one injury away from disaster — not a Stanley Cup-winning model.
They lucked out the last couple of seasons and two playoff runs being fairly healthy, so they’ll need to figure out another way if they plan on sniffing the postseason this time around, especially as COVID-19 continues to rear its ugly head.
Trotz views Beauvillier as a veteran already: “He’s a core player for us now. When there’s a number of people out — it’s not only him — you have to find that next level to your game… not just blend in…. There’s more to Anthony that probably even Anthony knows about. We see it, but he needs to see it. Sometimes you need those hard lessons along the way to understand it. I’m a Beau fan. I think he has another level for us. He needs to have another level for us.”
J.G. Pageau on Austin Czarnik returning to the lineup: “He fits very well with our team. He’s a very smart player that works extremely hard. We’re lucky to have him on our side.”
Zach Parise on COVID protocols: “I think that the league is doing its best. We want to be healthy and play the game. Let’s hope that we, not just in hockey, we can move forward.”
The Islanders do not have much time to turn their season around. Just last week, we discussed what they needed to do, and the hole is only deeper now. However, with the Bruins dealing with their own COVID-19 troubles, the Islanders can make up some much-needed ground. Boston remains 11 points ahead with just one more game played over the Islanders, so Thursday’s matchup could have long-term implications as the season progresses.
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Jon Zella is a 31-year-old, Long Island native currently living in Syracuse, NY. Outside of hockey, he enjoys motorcycles, beer, coffee, and his dog Olive.