The New York Islanders have been in a playoff spot for much of the 2022-23 season, and yet, it’s anyone’s guess where this team is headed in the short or long term. Injuries are starting to add up in addition to continued poor play from much of the team, which will surely compound their issues moving forward. Anthony Beauvillier and NHL All-Star Adam Pelech were out of the lineup in a 3-0 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Dec. 10, and with no corresponding moves made as of Sunday morning, no one knows how long either will be out. With injuries adding up, can the Islanders weather Pelech’s absence and stop their slide?
Injury Bug Hits Islanders
The bad news in the loss column has been exacerbated by the loss of a number of Islanders over the last month. Kyle Palmieri remains on long-term injured reserve (LTIR); Beauvillier was a game-time decision against the Hurricanes and remains day-to-day; and Pelech’s status following a brutal play against the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday (Dec. 6) in which he hit his head, remains a mystery. The only update we received on Pelech came from a quote by Anders Lee following practice on Thursday.
“You feel for him, and it’s scary, but glad to hear that he’s in a good spot and he’ll be on his road to recovery,” Lee said. “Any time something like that happens it’s always a little tough until you find out how they’re doing.” (From “Can the Islanders remain competitive if Adam Pelech is out long term,” The Athletic, 12/11/22).
Beauvillier also remained out of the lineup over the last two games. The 25-year-old had been one of the team’s more inconsistent forwards, and his five goals and 11 points in 27 games aren’t enough to make up for his inability to show up on a regular basis, a problem he’s had his entire career outside of the playoffs.
Then there’s Palmieri, who remains out of the lineup on LTIR. He can come back at any point so long as general manager, Lou Lamoriello, opens a roster spot for him, and, of course, he’s ready to go. Palmieri, like Beauvillier and, in reality, the rest of the team save for Zach Parise, can’t seem to find any real consistency putting the puck in the net or limiting costly mistakes. When Palmieri is ready to return, which he may be as early as the Islanders’ upcoming road trip next week, Lamoriello has a choice to make; keep Simon Holmstrom or Hudson Fasching.
Related: 3 Takeaways From Islanders’ 3-0 Loss vs Hurricanes – 12/10/2022
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Both play very different roles, but presumably, Palmieri would take Holmstrom’s spot in the top six with Beauvillier still a question mark. Holmstrom has played just nine games so far, and after a strong start and some flashes of good play, he hasn’t been as noticeable in the last few games. He’s registered just one assist so far, and his possession stats have dropped considerably from his first games in an Islanders sweater. On the other hand, Fasching is very versatile and could provide a continued boost to the Islanders’ third line alongside Parise and J.G. Pageau. His energetic style fits in almost anywhere, and he’s clearly hungry to earn a spot with the team full-time.
Islanders Fisherman Returns
While we await news on the return of injured players, the return of the fisherman took center stage this weekend. In one of the franchise’s more controversial decisions in recent history, the Islanders officially brought back the fisherman jersey against the Hurricanes. The move inspired debate from the second rumors about its return hit Twitter, but leave it to Islanders’ play-by-play commentator, Brendan Burke, who found a way to bring detractors and proponents together prior to puck drop at UBS Arena.
Following the game, it was easy to joke about how the Islanders looked a lot like they did when they donned the fisherman in the late 1990s. On the second half of a back-to-back, in which the Islanders are 4-1-0 in the front end and 3-2-0 in the back end, the team looked markedly different against the Hurricanes as they did the night before against the New Jersey Devils. In what was perhaps one of their most complete games of the season against the Devils, fighting tooth and nail until the final buzzer to pull off a 6-4 victory on Friday, Dec. 9, the Islanders put together what may have been one of their worst losses.
The Islanders had just 16 shots on goal during the game, though they somehow managed to muster an identical number of high-danger scoring chances – nine – in all situations (per Natural Stat Trick). But that’s just about where the good news ends for the Islanders. Their all-world goalie, Ilya Sorokin, hasn’t been himself over the last week or so, having not won a game in his last four starts. Semyon Varlamov has bounced back well this season and the Islanders haven’t always supported their goalies game to game, but it’s Sorokin who truly carries the mail between the pipes on a nightly basis, and it’s clear without him at the top of his game, the Islanders are in even worse trouble than their recent slide suggests.
Islanders Odds & Ends
It appears Miles Wood is okay following a huge hit delivered by the Islanders’ Alexander Romanov. “I’ve never been hit like that in my lifetime. He just read the play really well and I just kind of fell into his lap (…) it was a clean hit.” Romanov followed this hit up with his first fight in an Islanders uniform against Michael McLeod.
Fasching, who was called up to the NHL at the beginning of December, has played really well in his three games so far. With Clutterbuck in and out of the lineup, Fasching provides a seamless fit on the identity line for the Islanders.
“I thought he played really well,” Lambert said of Fasching. “What I saw was a real structural guy, knows his position, knows where to be, and I thought he used his big body to protect pucks, create scoring chances. He went to the net hard I thought he played very well.”
The Islanders hit the road for the next five games. Their first game is against the league-leading Boston Bruins, who will offer another in a string of big tests for the Islanders. Without Pelech in the lineup, the Bruins will be tough to contain. Can the Islanders get back to their team game, defending and scoring by committee? Can Sorokin get his swagger back between the pipes and help carry the team before they fall out of the playoff race?
While being in playoff position by Thanksgiving is important – 76.3 percent of the teams that were in a playoff position on U.S. Thanksgiving made the playoffs, according to NHL Stats – December carries a lot of weight for the Islanders, even more so given their record so far this month – 2-3-0. They’ll need to get their act together if they plan on staying in the Eastern Conference’s top eight by the end of the calendar year.