Islanders Weekly: Winless Road Trip, COVID-19 Pause & More

Islanders Weekly is my series that looks at the performance and outlook of the New York Islanders. Every Thursday, Islanders Weekly will take a look at the week that was for the Islanders, highlighting key players and trends while looking at the road ahead.

RelatedLast Week’s Islanders Weekly

The Islanders wrapped up their five-game road trip on Sunday in Philadelphia, falling in overtime for the second time in as many nights to conclude a winless trip. The five games in eight days saw the Isles pick up an underwhelming two points, falling to the bottom of the MassMutual East Division. As of the conclusion of Wednesday’s action, the Isles are tied with the New York Rangers for last in the division, with matching 3-4-2 records through nine games.

The team returned from the road trip expecting to start a three-game homestand including two games against the Buffalo Sabres. Buffalo was delayed getting to Long Island, and the team subsequently had several players placed in COVID-19 protocol and games canceled for the next week. New York’s next opportunity to play will now come on Saturday against the Pittsburgh Penguins, assuming the Isles don’t have any protocol issues of their own.

The Week That Was

The Islanders have played three games over the last week, taking on the Washington Capitals for the second time and heading to Philadelphia for a back-to-back at Wells Fargo Center. After playing a close game against Washington in their first meeting, the Isles got off to a hot start against a depleted Capitals team. New York took advantage of the absence of captain Alex Ovechkin, as well as Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, and goaltender Ilya Samsonov by jumping out to a quick 3-0 lead. Forward Oliver Wahlstrom’s first NHL goal highlighted a strong first period for the road team, but things got progressively worse as the action continued.

Alex Ovechkin Washington Capitals
Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Washington fired back with five goals in the second period, four of which came in just over a five-minute span, and the game was permanently flipped. Semyon Varlamov allowed all five goals and returned for the third period, where he was able to stop the bleeding aside from a Tom Wilson empty-net goal with mere seconds remaining. The lack of life shown late in this game continued into the weekend, as the team started very slowly against the Flyers, trailing 2-0 after the first period. A strong second period tied the game and forced overtime, where Scott Laughton gave Philadelphia the extra point.

The second half of the back-to-back featured Ilya Sorokin in net, who was still in search of his first NHL win and some goal support from his team. The Isles were finally able to score some goals in front of him, putting up three and forcing overtime for the second straight night. Once again, it was Philadelphia that found the winner, taking the extra point from the Isles yet again. With extra time to prepare for its next game, the Isles will be looking to adjust following this week’s struggles.

Depth Forward Debuts

With Anthony Beauvillier still unavailable and the team struggling to put up goals, many different forwards have found their way into the lineup over the past week. Wahlstrom’s long-awaited season debut resulted in his first NHL goal against Washington, leading to his placement in the team’s lineup for the first game of the back-to-back against the Flyers. The young shoot-first winger provided a much-needed offensive spark on Thursday, despite his goal coming off a lucky bounce. Wahlstrom should continue to be an Islander to watch if he is able to carve out a consistent role in the lineup.

Oliver Wahlstrom Islanders
Oliver Wahlstrom, New York Islanders, 2018 NHL Draft, Dallas, TX, June 22, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Sunday’s game saw the Islanders’ debut of both Austin Czarnik and Dmytro Timashov, as the latter was even able to crack the top-six out of the gate. Czarnik also saw time on the team’s first power-play unit, taking Ryan Pulock’s usual spot as the right-handed shot at the blue line. Both forwards made good first impressions, but the game script cut Timashov’s night short. He did not see the ice in the third period or overtime, with the Isles trailing by two after the second period. All three of these forwards should continue to get opportunities in the lineup, as changes are definitely needed for the forward group.

Discipline Concerns

Through the team’s first nine games, the Islanders’ leading scorer has also logged the most minutes in the penalty box. Mathew Barzal continues to take penalties, a topic addressed by head coach Barry Trotz after Sunday’s overtime loss, stating that the team needs its best player on the ice. Trotz has never been shy to let Barzal know when he makes mistakes, so more of these types of actions could cost the franchise player some ice time. Barzal’s overtime penalty in that game put Philadelphia on the power-play that ultimately lead to the game-winner by Kevin Hayes.

The Islanders were fairly disciplined in their first meeting with Philadelphia, only taking one penalty, but the other two matchups this past week were grounds for concern. The Isles took three minor penalties aside from Barzal’s misconduct in the Capitals game, allowing two power-play goals to a team without some of its best skaters on the man advantage. All three penalties in regulation on Sunday were killed, but ultimately the penalty in overtime did them in. The penalty kill has been underwhelming, sitting the Isles in the bottom ten in the NHL in kill percentage. Spending less time in the box, specifically for its best players, will do wonders in preventing crucial goals against.

Top Performers and the Week Ahead

Top Performers

  • Mathew Barzal: 1 goal, 3 assists
  • Anders Lee: 1 goal, 1 assist
  • Nick Leddy: 1 goal, 1 assist

The Week Ahead

  • 2/4: vs Buffalo Sabres (Postponed)
  • 2/6: vs Pittsburgh Penguins
  • 2/8: at New York Rangers

*All stats came from Hockey-Reference

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