It’s not quite a “long national nightmare,” but for the New York Islanders, who are limping back to Long Island after a brutal end to their 13-game road trip, they hope this is as close as they’ll get this season. Injuries and illness have added even more weight on top of the Islanders’ string of losses, the latest of which came at the hands of the red-hot Florida Panthers on Tuesday night in a nationally televised game. Let’s catch up on the week’s latest news and dive into what’s ailing the Islanders as they head home for the first time this season.
Islanders Limping to UBS Arena
No, literally. Not only have the Islanders lost four games in a row while getting outscored 19-4, but the team also announced on Wednesday that star defenseman Ryan Pulock is out four to six weeks with a lower-body injury sustained against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday. He blocked a shot by Mathieu Joseph during the second period, limped to the bench, and looked uncomfortable immediately, grimacing as he bit down hard on his mouthpiece. While Pulock did play a little over two minutes in the third period on Monday, he was unavailable against the Panthers Tuesday.
To add to the matter, the Islanders announced before hitting the ice with the Panthers on Tuesday that Josh Bailey tested posted for COVID-19, though he does not have symptoms. It does mean he’s remaining in Florida to quarantine and may miss Saturday’s home opener at UBS Arena.
This is all on top of the Islanders’ poor play on the ice. Some of it is certainly bad luck, but it’s not all bad luck. The power play continues to be an absolute mess, with players set up in their off wings, leaving no opportunity to shoot. Noah Dobson hasn’t shown he has what it takes to quarterback the power play with some authority, making their time on the man advantage moot.
It also doesn’t help that their puck retrieval has been less than ideal on the power play on top of poor zone entries. They’ve had a lot of chances to capitalize on these chances over the last four games, and would be in a very different situation if they scored two or three more power-play goals in the last week.
On the other side of the coin, the Islanders play 25 of the next 36 games at home leading up to the Olympic break in February, welcomed news for the beleaguered Islanders. This is definitely a positive, even with Pulock out of the lineup until the end of December. Last season, the Islanders had a sparkling home record, going 21-4-3 at Nassau Coliseum. They’re hoping for a similar result at UBS Arena beginning this Saturday against the Calgary Flames.
The other bit of good news is that the Islanders appear to be in this situation quite a bit at this point in the season, stumbling out of the gate at times before hitting their stride. This doesn’t sound great until you consider the team has taken off after they pick up some momentum, something they’ve struggled with during their on-again, off-again schedule. Can they find their way even without Pulock starting this weekend? That remains to be seen.
Additionally, with Bailey out, head coach Barry Trotz needed to fire up the line blender once again, giving youngster Kieffer Bellows another opportunity in the lineup, his second straight game, along with trying Zach Parise on the first line with Kyle Palmieri, and Anders Lee with J.G. Pageau. Bellows looked OK against the Lightning, laying a decent check on Corey Perry, but otherwise looked rusty, understandable for someone in their first game action since the preseason.
However, he looked a little more lively against the Panthers, assisting on the Islanders’ only goal, Palmieri’s first of the season, and getting involved in plays. Bellows does have the ability to score goals and needs to fight for a reason to stay in the lineup. While Bailey is likely to regain his spot once he’s available, it’s Bellows’ job to make Trotz make a hard decision while helping his team get back on track.
Trotz on sending messages to his players: “A veteran player has a little more runway because they’ve earned it. There’s going to be a point where the runway runs out.”
Trotz on dealing with younger players making mistakes: “A lot of times with a young guy who is a scorer, they score and they go ‘well that’s what I do’, and then don’t do anything else,” Trotz said. “You catch the young guys and get them to think about the right thing so they get a balance. Not just scoring, but what do you do when you don’t have the puck. What if it gets messy. How do you clean those mistakes up…If you don’t nip it in the bud early, then it becomes a problem. It becomes acceptable. That’s how you have to do it with the young guys.”
“It’s turned into a nightmare the last little while there,” Trotz said following the loss on Tuesday. “We’re looking forward to getting back. We’ll open that arena, hopefully it’ll give us some new energy, a new focus, whatever it is.”
Islanders Storylines for the Week Ahead
While it would take a bit of roster magic by general manager Lou Lamoriello, could Anatoly Golyshev be getting a call-up soon? What about rookie defenseman Robin Salo? The two players are having a great start to their season with the Bridgeport Islanders in the AHL and may provide the boost to the big club needs heading into a more regular schedule. Looking outside the organization, Colorado Avalanche defender, 24-year-old Sam Girard, has been rumored to be on the trading block with the Islanders a no-brainer landing spot. Can Lamoriello end up making a deal? Time will tell.
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.