Islanders Weekly is my series that looks at the performance and outlook of the New York Islanders. Every Thursday, we will take a look at the week that was for the Islanders, highlighting key players and trends while looking at the road ahead.
Related: Last Week’s Islanders Weekly
The Islanders had their three games of the week crammed into four nights, and have three days off prior to traveling to Boston for a back-to-back Thursday and Friday. They had back-to-back games last week as well, hosting the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers on Thursday and Friday, respectively. The Isles jumped out to a 2-0 lead but allowed the Flyers to come back once again. The 2-2 contest went into a shootout, where Ilya Sorokin once again shut down the Flyers’ shooters in the skills competition, this time with Brock Nelson finding the winner in the fifth round.
After managing to get past the Flyers, the Isles struggled in both games against the Rangers, although somehow able to steal two points from their rivals. The Rangers rode a strong game from Alexandar Georgiev, who hadn’t played in the team’s previous 11 games, and put three past Semyon Varlamov and added an empty netter for good measure in a 4-1 win. Sunday’s rematch saw the Islanders jump out to another 2-0 lead, but were once again unable to prevent a comeback. The 2-2 tie went to overtime, where Ryan Pulock was finally able to record his first goal of the season and grab his team a huge two points.
Newcomers Fitting In
New York looked committed to their potential playoff run based on their acquisitions at this year’s trade deadline. After acquiring forwards Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac from the New Jersey Devils, the Isles bolstered their defensive depth with the addition of Braydon Coburn from the Ottawa Senators. Palmieri and Zajac joined the lineup on Thursday, just a day after the trade, and skated together on the third line with Jean-Gabriel Pageau. Leo Komarov stayed in his spot on the first line Thursday and Friday, before a shake-up for Sunday’s rematch with the Rangers. Coburn practiced with the Isles for the first time on Wednesday after being acquired on Sunday.
Coach Trotz mixed the lines up on Sunday after keeping his lines steady for the back-to-back on Thursday and Friday. While many expected Palmieri to be a prime candidate to join Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle on the top line, it was actually Zajac who stepped in. Adding the veteran center to Barzal’s line gave the unit two options to take draws and a player with tremendous hockey smarts and plenty of experience, according to the Isles’ bench boss. Palmieri stayed on Pageau’s line with Oliver Wahlstrom rejoining the lineup, and the newly acquired winger scored his first goal as an Islander in just his third game with the team.
The Challenges Ahead
The Isles have been tremendously successful at home, with Friday’s loss to the Rangers accounting for only their second in regulation all season long. Things haven’t been as easy on the road, and they will need to improve with crucial games coming up down the stretch. The first span of road contests begins with a back-to-back set with the Bruins in Boston on Thursday and Friday, followed by a visit to Philadelphia on Sunday. The Bruins currently occupy the fourth and final playoff spot in the MassMutual East Division and made a major splash at the trade deadline with the addition of former Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall.
The Isles have also had their fair share of struggles against the Flyers, especially when it comes to holding down leads. Each of the last two meetings with Philadelphia has resulted in blown multi-goal leads, but both times the Isles were bailed out by clutch performances by Sorokin in the shootout. With the additions the team made offensively ahead of Monday’s trade deadline, perhaps more goals will come against a Flyers goaltending tandem that has fallen significantly short of expectations this season. Philadelphia currently sits outside a playoff spot, despite being a preseason favorite to compete for the top spot in the East. The Islanders will need to grab a majority of the points over these next three games if they want to remain in the thick of things atop the division.
Top Performers and the Week Ahead
- Mathew Barzal: 3 assists
- Ryan Pulock: 1 goal, 1 assist
- Ilya Sorokin: 2 wins, .925 SV%
The Week Ahead
- 4/15: at Boston Bruins
- 4/16: at Boston Bruins
- 4/18: at Philadelphia Flyers
- 4/20: vs New York Rangers