The New York Islanders have started out the season with a 3-2 record, and at times, they remind us of why they were in the Eastern Conference Final last season. They may only be one game above .500, but the two losses have been when backup Ilya Sorokin is in goal. Meanwhile, starting goaltender Semyon Varlamov is 3-0 on the season and has only surrendered one goal so far.
While Varlamov will receive a ton of praise for his great start to his season, and rightfully so, the defense has to be credited for the strong start. Head coach Barry Trotz is known for having great defensive teams and teaching defense in particular. However, this season we are seeing the defensive group carry the Islanders and look like one of the best in the NHL.
The Islanders’ defense is known for blocking shots and defending the blue line ever since Trotz arrived. This season, we see the defense constantly breaking up scoring opportunities and protecting the net. The Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock pairing have combined for 22 blocked shots on the season thus far and are starting to gain notice as one of the best defensive pairings in the NHL.
The defensive group is also making their mark on the offensive end. Noah Dobson and Nick Leddy both have 3 assists on the season and lead the team in that category. We are watching the defense not only keep the puck in the zone as they should, but they’re creating goal-scoring opportunities, as the offensive players have been struggling this season. A notable instance of the defense creating scoring opportunities came in the third game of the season when Adam Pelech fired a shot from the blue line that allowed center Jean-Gabriel Pageau to rebound and score, giving the Islanders the 1-0 win.
Noah Dobson Is Living Up to Expectations
Noah Dobson had his best night of the season in the victory against the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night. He was responsible for two assists and seven blocked shots in a great all-around game. After the Islanders traded Devon Toews and Johnny Boychuk retired, it was clear that there were going to be big shoes to fill on the defense, but the strong start from the 21-year-old leaves many hopeful that the void is no longer.
Dobson has struggled at times, with some poor blue line play and careless turnovers. But despite some of the struggles, we see a gradual improvement, and he looks to be growing into the defenseman that general manager Lou Lamoriello and Trotz expected him to be. The young defenseman leaves the Islanders optimistic that he can be a top blueliner in the near future.
Andy Greene might be 38 years old and near retirement, but his experience is paying off tenfold. Despite not recording a point on the season, he’s having a great season for an Islanders team that needed the depth. He leads the defense with 16 blocked shots on the season thus far and has shown to be a great pair with the young Dobson.
When Boychuk retired, it was clear that the Islanders were going to need an experienced defenseman to step up. In the first few games, we have seen the veteran presence and significance of Greene.
What About the 2 Games the Islanders Lost?
It’s easy to say that the Islanders lost both games without Varlamov in net, and therefore, he is the key to success. However, there is a lot to consider when looking at those two games that got away. The first game they lost, a 4-0 defeat to the Rangers, everything went wrong for the Islanders, including Varlamov needing to leave in the pregame warmups. The recent loss to the Devils was a 2-0 defeat where we saw the defense ultimately step up and keep the game close, only allowing 24 shots on goal while the offense continued to struggle.
This season has proven that there is a lot to look forward to when it comes to the Islanders, especially on defense. The team collectively looks poised to compete in the East Division and potentially again in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November but has been a journalist for multiple blogs since the end of the 2019-2020 NHL season. While not following any specific team, Mike covers the New York Islanders for The Hockey Writers, a team that has turned themselves into legitimate cup contenders with Barry Trotz as the head coach.