The New York Islanders are doing more than surviving their 13-game road trip. Many thought this historically mediocre road team would not fare well playing this long away from Long Island. But as the trip winds down and their inaugural home game at UBS Arena inches closer, they can rest easy knowing they’ve done quite well so far. In addition to that, general manager Lou Lamoriello has also had himself a good couple of weeks, shedding additional contracts to help the Islanders’ cap situation without giving up any assets.
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We’ve also seen some much-needed Islander breakouts, particularly from young forwards, who have helped the team through this trip. Let’s dive into the latest news and highlights from the previous week and look into the storylines for the week ahead.
Before the start of the season, I outlined a few players I thought were key for the Islanders to be successful this season. I looked outside of the typical characters like Mathew Barzal, Anders Lee, Kyle Palmieri, or Brock Nelson; these players are expected to be the stars and contribute. Instead, I focused on Oliver Wahlstrom and Anthony Beauvillier, somewhat secondary players with something to prove this season. Don’t get me wrong; both players have made an impact during their time with the Islanders, but if the team was going to take another step this season, these two players needed to play an active role. And to start the season, they certainly have.
Wahlstrom sits with five goals and Beauvillier a comfortable three goals and seven points, both in the team’s first 10 games. The former is the sniper this team has been longing for, finally arriving from within the organization and not via trade as many fans bellowed this offseason.
“Every time he had the puck, he seemed to get a shot on net,” Trotz said after the Islanders’ victory over the Blackhawks. “That’s what happens when he moves his feet, and I thought he was a real good complement to his line.”
Beauvillier’s play this season is also a welcome sign to an offense that’s been sluggish at times so far due to the lack of production from Palmieri and J.G. Pageau. Just as impressive has been his skating over the last few games. Last weekend, Beauvillier found his legs, chasing down pucks and taking a Barzal-esque skate through the offensive zone to try and find time and space. Trotz expected a “breakout season” from Beauvillier right before the start of the 2021-22 campaign, and Beauvillier is delivering early on.
Islanders Cap Relief
Who knew Islander fans would be excited about a Jack Eichel trade that didn’t directly involve their team? Well, leave it to Lamoriello to put the Islanders in an advantageous situation while “helping” the Buffalo Sabres. After the Sabres traded the injured star center to the Vegas Golden Knights, Lamoriello used the opportunity to not just clear much-needed cap space for the Islanders, but help get the Sabres to the cap floor by trading Johnny Boychuk’s contract for “future considerations.” This allows the Islanders to accrue cap space until the trade deadline, something they were unable to do with Boychuk on long-term injured reserve.
Earlier this week, Isles fans learned about another helpful situation, this time regarding Leo Komarov. Artur Khairullin, “Deputy Chief of the hockey department in ‘Sport-Express,” tweeted early on Wednesday that Komarov was headed to the KHL. This left Islander fans wondering if his contract would be terminated, thus opening up some serious cap relief for the team. Wednesday afternoon, they got their answer.
This is great news for the Islanders, who now have close to $4M in cap space to work with as soon as Komarov clears, giving them the ability to bolster their defense and/or their offense long before the trade deadline, should they choose that path.
UBS Arena Set to Open
Since the team’s inception in 1972, the Islanders have been Long Island’s team. Their connection with the fans is unique, like a hometown rock band that made it big. Fans follow the team around the country, and in the 1980s, to baseball diamonds. Earlier this week, UBS Arena announced a great collaboration after listening to calls for well over a year.
While this may not be a huge hockey story for those outside of the Islanders’ fan base, it is for those who are deeply connected with the team. Offside Tavern was previously located in New York City but closed due to complications from the ongoing pandemic. Fans tweeted at the New York Islanders and UBS Arena to get them included, and this week, they got their wish.
“That was super fun and a really nice gesture from the team,” Costa said in a recent interview. “It shows the team is listening to the fanbase and caring. We’ve had quite a bit of ups and downs over the last few decades. To have an ownership group and management team really listen to the fans and give them what they want is great to have.”
Head coach Barry Trotz on how Mat Barzal has improved: “I think he’s taking a jump in the area of acceptance. Acceptance on the game is on both sides of the puck. The game is a cause-and-effect relationship. He’s putting those pieces together.”
Scott Mayfield on the Islanders’ defensive play: “I think it’s been good. There’s definitely been times when there have been breakdowns. There’s ups and downs always but it’s been good so far.”
Trotz with more on the Islanders defense: “[In our two previous games before the Wild] we were fine. Thought we got a little loose in Minnesota,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said on Tuesday. “When we do give them up, we give them up in bulk form. It’s not one and done, it’s two or three and we have to cut that out a little bit.”
Storyline for the Week Ahead
Zdeno Chara’s play has gradually improved over the last few games, but questions still remain if Sebastian Aho will get a chance to play this season. In typical Trotz fashion, he mentioned all 23 players will be available and “a Russian goaltender will be starting,” not tipping his hand to any lineup decisions heading into this week’s games. But as the schedule picks up for the Islanders as their road trip subsides, one wonders when or if Aho will get into the lineup.
Jon Zella is a 30-year-old Long Island native currently living in Syracuse, NY. Outside of hockey, he enjoys motorcycles, beer, coffee, and his dog Olive.