It’s safe to say that the past month was a tougher schedule than usual. The New York Islanders had to face the Washington Capitals, New York Rangers, and Boston Bruins in 11 of their 14 games this month, resulting in only eight wins in the month of April and the teams sliding to third place in the East Division. The Islanders struggled at times in the past month, and the grades for some of the players or shifts reflect that. While still one of the top teams in the division and poised to compete for the Stanley Cup, there are some concerns that need to be addressed in the final games.
Semyon Varlamov A+
If only Semyon Varlamov could play the Rangers in every game this season, shutting out the team in four of the six starts and only allowing four goals against them this season. He won four of the seven games he started in the past month, but the continued great play has allowed the Islanders to win low-scoring games and continue to look like one of the best teams in the East Division despite the offense struggling immensely at times.
Varlamov has been a great goaltender throughout this season, and along with Ilya Sorokin, has given the Islanders arguably one of the top goaltending duos in the NHL. Moreover, the last three starts to close out the month brought his goals-against average (GAA) down to 1.99 and brought his save percentage up to .930 (SV%), which can potentially make him a finalist for the Vezina Trophy.
Ryan Pulock A
Along with Adam Pelech, Ryan Pulock has helped give the Islanders a great top defensive pairing and a strong defense overall. Pulock has arguably been the best defenseman on the team, constantly creating turnovers and eliminating some of the best scorers in the East Division. The 26-year-old defenseman has been quiet on the offensive end, only adding three points in the past month and not being as effective from the point as the team would hope considering their offensive woes. However, the defensive play has been more than enough to help the Islanders, with a team-leading 3.7 defensive point shares in addition to 95 blocked shots on the season thus far.
Ilya Sorkin A-
It’s very easy to take for granted how well the first-year goaltender has played this season, allowing starting goalie Varlamov to not only take valuable rest days but also split games with the duo dominating in the net. Sorokin is only 25-years-old and struggled in the first few games of the season but has constantly improved, and in 19 starts, he is posting a 2.19 GAA and a .918 SV% to give the Islanders one of the best, if not the best goaltending duo in the NHL.
In the past month, Sorokin started seven games and won only four of the starts, including losing consecutive games against the Capitals. However, Sorokin added his third shutout of the season with a 30 save overtime victory against the Flyers. In addition, the young goaltender only allowed three goals or more only once in the seven starts with the six-goal outlier against the Capitals, indicating that even in the losses, the Islanders have been receiving great performance from their 25-year-old goaltender.
Andy Greene A-
Andy Greene continues to consistently give the Islanders great performances on the defensive end of the ice. The 37-year-old defenseman might not be as dominant and quick on the ice as his younger self, but he continues to give the Islanders strong defense in the third pairing. Whether Greene plays alongside fellow veteran Braydon Coburn, who the team acquired at the trade deadline from the Senators for a hopeful Staley Cup run, or if he plays on the same pairing as the 21-year-old Noah Dobson, we have seen a consistent disciplined play from the veteran who has not only added depth to a good defense but has helped turn the defense into one of the best in the league.
Mathew Barzal – Jordan Eberle B+
Mathew Barzal opened the month up with a hat-trick performance against the Capitals and looked poised to finally return to help out the top line despite the absence of Anders Lee. While Barzal recorded six assists in the next 13 games of the month, the Islanders’ top-line scorer didn’t find the back of the net until the final game of April. The 23-year-old scorer has proven throughout the season that he is a constant threat to create a goal-scoring opportunity, and with the right skaters on the same line as him, the Islanders can find a great offense. Unfortunately, the past month saw the team constantly searching for the right forward to pair along with the rest of the top line, and the offensive production continued to fall in the process.
Like Barzal, Jordan Eberle is one of the skaters that struggled to find the back of the net along with the difficulty along the top line. Eberle found the back of the net twice in the eight-goal victory against the Capitals but only scored twice since that game. Moreover, the veteran scorer’s ability to create on the wing and find space near the net has fallen off despite the talent being there for him to help turn the top line into a potent one. The hope is that down the stretch, the Islanders can find more scoring opportunities from the 30-year-old scorer with reason to be hopeful considering how the top line played in the recent games against the Rangers.
Brock Nelson B+
Brock Nelson started out the month on fire, scoring three goals in four games, including some game-winners to make him the team leader in goals on the season with 15. Unfortunately, Nelson struggled to find the back of the net the rest of the month with only one goal and being responsible for three assists on the second line but as the entire offense struggled, so did one of the Islanders’ top scorer, who now has 16 goals on the season. It will be interesting to see how the Islanders build their second line around the 29-year-old forward, considering they have the talent and the players to compliment him.
Adam Pelech B+
Pelech continues to be a force on the defensive end of the ice. Along with Pulock, the 26-year-old skater has been able to constantly create turnovers in the defensive zone and eliminate opponents along the boards. Pelech might not be blocking as many shots as the rest of the Islanders defense with only 68 on the season and his play on the offensive end isn’t feared by many opponents, but the consistent play from both the blue line, on odd-man rushes, and in front of the net is a reminder of the great play that give the Islanders one of the best defenses in the game.
Scott Mayfield B+
Scott Mayfield notably leads the team in blocked shots with 106 on the season thus far but is also continuing to play well in all aspects of the game defensively. Along with Nick Leddy, the duo has been known as the pairing that can make plays from the point and create scoring opportunities. This season, the big boost has been Mayfield’s play on the defensive end as he is proving to be one of the better skating defensemen on the team and able to consistently force opponents into terrible shots and allowed the Islanders to have defensive depth.
While Mayfield was silent on the offensive end this past month, only contributing four assists with a point drought of 12 games. The hope is that Mayfield will start to contribute once again on the offensive end of the ice with articulate passes and centering shots towards the net from the point, both of which can help an Islanders offense that is searching for more production on the offensive end of the ice.
Anthony Beauvillier B
Anthony Beauvillier has continued to play along the later lines as one of the Islanders’ top scorers over the past month. Beauvillier scored five goals in the past month, including three in the last six games, as his ability to crash towards the net is allowing him to find open shots as well as find open skaters for goals, with five assists in the month as well. The 23-year-old scorer is continuing to play better with each game, and the great play down the stretch can help the Islanders find offensive depth as they prepare for a Stanley Cup run in the upcoming games.
Josh Bailey B
Despite missing three games in the past month, Josh Bailey might have played his best month yet. The 31-year-old skater is having one of the more disappointing seasons for the Islanders and has struggled to find a shift to play effectively on. However, the past month saw Bailey score three goals and add six assists, working best on the same line as Nelson and Beauvillier, where he can constantly find and create scoring opportunities as he did in the recent victory over the Rangers. The hope is that the veteran scorer can continue to play well, as the Islanders will need him to provide a scoring presence in playoff matchups where goals are rare to find.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau B
The past month was the rare decline in production for a reliable third-line center. Jean-Gabriel Pageau has been a great center on the third line on both ends on the ice and was often creating open shots for the rest of the skaters on the shift. With 14 goals this season, the Islanders were finding scoring depth for the majority of the season, and a majority of the production could be credited to Pageau controlling the puck in the middle of the ice.
Pageau only found the back of the net three times in the past month, and the third line was a non-factor for the majority of the recent games. It’s unlikely that Pageau will have a scoring streak like the one he had earlier in the season, where he scored five goals in four games in February, but the hope is that he can reignite the offense on the backend with a return to the constant pressure on opposing goaltenders.
Leo Komarov B-
Throughout the season, the 34-year-old forward looked more like a liability and less like a viable starter for a team that was getting younger and more talented. The past month saw Leo Komarov play on multiple lines with his ability to play alongside the variety of skaters the Islanders possess, hoping his style of play could translate to success. In the limited ice time, the veteran forward was able to find the back of the net in the final game of the month on the top line with Barzal and Eberle, and the indication is that he will play on the same shift with those two play-makers the rest of the season.
Nick Leddy B-
Leddy and Mayfield have been a great pairing this season and have been the scoring defensive pairing with the duo combining for four goals and 39 assists on the season with a team-leading 27 assists from the veteran defenseman. While Leddy continued to be a consistent force alongside Mayfield on the defensive end of the ice, the 30-year-old defenseman was invisible offensively. The hope is he can return to being a prominent distributor of the puck from the point, considering how the Islanders offense has struggled lately and can use that extra dimension of attack from the point.
Travis Zajac – Kyle Palmieri C+
The Islanders front office was well aware of the issues the offense possessed entering the trade deadline, both on the top line and on the backend. The move of the deadline was acquiring both Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri from the New Jersey Devils, both proven scorers who can easily play alongside any of the Islanders forwards. The duo has combined for four points in the time that they have been with the team and have both struggled to find the right shifts to play on.
Palmieri has played alongside multiple lines since being acquired, and the inability to find the right skaters to play alongside has to have head coach Barry Trotz scrambling to find production from a line with Palmieri on it right before the playoffs. Zajac, on the other hand, often played alongside Barzal and Eberle, but the continued struggles have gotten to the point where he has started to become a healthy scratch and only playing when top skaters are injured. If the two acquired forwards fail to turn around their seasons, the trade can be catastrophic for a team that is hopeful for competing for the Stanley Cup.
Noah Dobson C+
Dobson has been one of the best young players on the Islanders this season. Playing alongside Greene, Dobson emerged as one of the better two-way defensemen on the team and had the uncanny ability to turn turnovers into odd-man rushes the other way. The past two months have been tough for the 21-year-old defenseman as he was placed on the COVID-19 list in March and had a difficult time transitioning back into the starting lineup once he returned. The past month was one where we saw some struggles on the defensive end of the ice and like most of the Islanders’ defensemen, little impact on the offensive end from the point. The hope is that the team receives the play that they received from the young skaters that helped give them the best record in the East Division only a few weeks ago.
Oliver Wahlstrom C
Oliver Wahlstrom was one of the best young skaters in the NHL, with six goals in the month of March and constantly creating scoring opportunities with his speed and accurate shooting. Wahlstrom looked like a candidate to win the Calder Trophy with nine goals on the season and being able to help the second or third line constantly find scoring chances. Unfortunately, the past month was one to forget for the 20-year-old goal scorer playing in only nine games and only scored once in the final game of the month. Recently, the young forward has turned a corner on his season, playing well in the final games of the season, and the Islanders will need his offensive presence moving forward with many key skaters struggling at the moment.
Cal Clutterbuck – Matt Martin – Casey Cizikas C-
The Islander fourth line, often known as their “Identity Line,” generally gives the team a strong scoring presence on the backend as well as a toughness and a unit that wasn’t afraid to make a hard hit along the boards. The trio has combined for 16 goals this season, and when they are playing well, the entire team seems to feed off their momentum. Unfortunately, the fourth line has struggled recently, and the hapless play on the offensive end of the ice couldn’t come at a worse time.
The trio of Cizikas, Martin, and Clutterbuck played in 11 games over the previous month, and Cizikas was the only one to find the back of the net. The fourth line has been streaky all season, but the recent struggles are even greater concern as the trio is failing to establish a potent attack and limited shots on the net. While Clutterbuck dealt with injuries in the past month, the hope is that with his return, the line can also return to being a potent shift that also allows the top skaters to spend less time on the ice and not allowing a significant drop-off.
What to Look For in the Season-Concluding Games
The Islanders only have a handful of games remaining, and considering how the rest of the division is playing, they will need to win the majority of them. Fortunately, they face the Sabres and the Devils but playing down to either of the two teams can be costly not only in the matchups that the team might receive in the first round in the Stanley Cup playoffs but also poor play will be a major concern for a team that is hoping to hoist the Stanley Cup for the first time since the 1982-83 season.
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.