The New York Islanders are on an early-season break from their 13-game road trip after a whirlwind week. Ilya Sorokin stole the show over the weekend to put the cherry on top of a great four-game stretch, putting him at 3-0-1 during that span and lifting the team out of the Metropolitan Division basement.
Though the team isn’t playing well in front of Sorokin at times, he’s managed to help the Islanders stave off slipping down the standings. Let’s dive into his performance and all of the Islanders’ news over the past week.
Sorokin the Backbone
After the Islanders stumbled out of the gate, yielding 11 goals in two games against the Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers, the Islanders, led by Sorokin, straightened the ship. While many of his teammates are still struggling in front of him for stretches, he has bailed them out on several occasions, allowing just four goals in four games. He’s stopped 136 saves on 140 shots with two shutouts, giving him the NHL’s Third Star of the Week honors.
He’s only started 27 games in his short NHL career and has five shutouts already. He’s also one away from tying his career-best three shutouts last season in just the team’s first six games. And he was less than a minute away from a third against the Chicago Blackhawks, too, if not for a defensive lapse in front of him as the clock wound down in the third period. The only blemish on his recent point streak came against the Columbus Blue Jackets, an overtime loss after the Islanders failed to score on what was essentially a three on two after a Blue Jackets’ player broke their stick.
No Panic in Parise
Zach Parise has been a steady force for the Islanders early this season. He’s been largely unnoticeable, which may sound like a criticism, but in reality, for his role on the team, it’s exactly what you want out of him. He is a veteran and understands his place in the lineup and has largely succeeded with that role. Keeping his name out of the broadcaster’s mouth and providing stability is all he needs to do.
Lately, though, he’s provided a little extra jump to the lineup, a good sign for the 37-year-old winger who has been best known for scoring over his career. He’s also been great alongside Oliver Wahlstrom regardless of their center, creating a new and unusual pair for head coach Barry Trotz to work with.
“The best pairing the Islanders have had this season has been Zach Parise and Oliver Wahlstrom, two wingers. They are the oldest and youngest forwards on the roster at 37 and 21 but are incredibly well-matched in style — and the Parise influence might be strongest with Wahlstrom, who has shown a real tenacity to his game in the past week after an indifferent training camp.”From, “6 thoughts on the Islanders 6 games in: Zdeno Chara’s struggles, Zach Parise-Oliver Wahlstrom chemistry and more,” The Athletic, 10/25/21
Mixing Defensive Pairs
Trotz has mixed up his defensive pairs since the start of the season, moving Zdeno Chara away from Noah Dobson and reuniting the youngster with Andy Greene, his partner from last season. That left Trotz without many options. We’re unlikely to see Scott Mayfield and Chara getting time together as they play similar styles, leaving Trotz to split up one of the best defensive duos in the NHL in Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech.
As it stands, Chara and Pulock, Mayfield and Pelech, and Dobson and Greene have been together for a few games and working things out together. Without much in the way of reinforcements, it looks like the Islanders will need to shuffle what they have or make a move. As much as Sebastian Aho appeared to be an option for Trotz in the preseason, it doesn’t look like he is now.
Ross the Boss
The Islanders and Ross Johnston agreed to a second four-year contract on Tuesday. Johnston has only played within the Islanders organization, though in a limited role. Many thought he would eventually replace Matt Martin on the fourth line until Martin signed a new deal to keep him around a few more seasons, making this signing all the more puzzling.
It’ll be interesting to see how things shake out next summer with a few million dollars coming off the books for the Islanders, but there’s a lot of hockey left this season before we worry about the next offseason. For now, Johnston is the 13th/14th forward who has some offensive upside and is clearly liked throughout the organization.
From Behind the Bench
Trotz and Johnston: “There’s not a lot of guys that can do what Ross does and fill that role,” Trotz said in his media availability Wednesday. “We can hopefully extend it and the toll on the fourth line in terms of the physicality, they get marked up. He’ll be a fresh guy to go in there all the time.”
Trotz on Varlamov: “It doesn’t matter when we star[t] Varly right now. His starting point will be his starting point. He’ll be rusty… it won’t matter… At the same time, he’s fully healthy. We’ll get him in at some point and he’ll go and we’ll run with our goalies…”
Who’s Trending and the Week Ahead
- It’s tough to start with anyone other than Sorokin. He’s been as consistent a goaltender as there is in the NHL and has truly been the backbone of the Islanders to start the season.
- Parise seems to be finding his place within the Islanders’ lineup. As a veteran on this team, Trotz is depending on him to set an example for the younger players, especially his linemate Wahlstrom.
- As a whole, the team in front of Sorokin needs to find some consistency. They’re winning games, which is good, and it makes it easier to massage the lineup to gain some chemistry, but in the meantime, they need to step up. We’ve seen some balanced scoring from the forwards, but the defense needs to find their footing if the Islanders plan to keep the train moving in the right direction.
Storylines for the Week Ahead
Layover: Over a 20 day stretch from October 25 through November 14, the Islanders play a total of five games. This allows the team to practice and work out the kings, but could also be an issue. It’s difficult to get momentum and have a feel for the game when there’s so much time in between matchups.
In addition, Trotz has an interesting decision to make against the Nashville Predators this Saturday. Does he try and get Varlamov into a game to see how he feels? That leaves Sorokin on the bench until November 4 at the earliest. Do the Islanders ride the hot hand and give Varlamov extra time before back-to-back games against the Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild on November 6 and 7, respectively? A tough decision for the Islanders’ coaching staff moving forward, though they have quite a bit of time to make it.
Stay tuned for future editions of Islanders Weekly, published every Thursday throughout the season.
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.