For one of the first times in many years, the New York Islanders are going into a season with high expectations. They defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins four games to none in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last year, before running into a red-hot Carolina Hurricanes team in Round 2.
The Islanders have virtually brought back the same team other than swapping Robin Lehner and Valtteri Filppula with Semyon Varlamov and Derrick Brassard. In their final preseason game of the year on Saturday night, they previewed what we could see this year in a 4-2 win over the New York Rangers.
Ever since the glory days of the four-straight Stanley Cups on Long Island with Mike Bossy and such, the Islanders have never really had a consistent goal scorer. There are just five players since 1990 that have scored 40 goals in a season, but one of those guys is the current captain, Anders Lee. Back in 2017-18, he scored his 40th goal in the final game of the season.
It’s hard to say with certainty that Lee can do that again. However, if there was one player on this current team to do it, he would likely be the one. He will need to score a bunch on the power play in his normal spot right in front of the net.
However, the Islanders’ power play was amongst the worst in the league last season and will have a new coach in charge after Scott Gomez left the team. Both defensemen Devon Toews and Ryan Pulock will get good looks along with Nick Leddy on the back end with the man advantage.
Mat Barzal and Jordan Eberle
Surprisingly, the Islanders young superstar in Barzal only had 62 points last season. Unless he gets injured, it’s extremely likely that he will surpass that total by a lot this year. The young center moved up to the first line after the departure of John Tavares. Barzal saw a lot of the opposition’s top defensive pairings, which should give him a good preview of what to expect this season.
Also, it wasn’t until late in the season that Eberle started scoring at a rapid rate. He had only 13 goals in his first 67 games and then scored 6 in his final 11 to finish with 19 on the season with Barzal assisting on many of them. Eberle then raised his level in the postseason with four goals in the opening round. With Barzal on the same line all year, Eberle could easily reach 30 goals for the first time in his career.
Second and Third Lines
With the season beginning shortly, it looks like the Islanders will begin with a second line of Anthony Beauvillier, Brock Nelson and Josh Bailey. As like Eberle, Nelson finished his season with 25 goals, eclipsing the 20-goal mark for the fourth time in his career. He was able to earn a contract extension and will need to be amongst the Islanders’ top scorers.
While fans have been hard on Josh Bailey since the day he was drafted, he had one of his best years last season. He always seems to score big goals like he did in the playoffs, and should be able to produce a solid number of points from the second line, as well as the power play.
Also, Beauvillier is going to be one of the key contributors if the Islanders can make another run this season. The 22-year-old knows how to put the puck in the back of the net, and will need more than last season’s 18 goals for the team to be successful.
Both Brassard and Leo Komarov are guys that are going to be important for the locker room. If Brassard can have a similar year to the one Filppula had last season, he will be a nice fit. It would also be nice if he can be a guy the Islanders can count on to win a big defensive-zone faceoff, as they seem to always be lacking in that department.
Michael Dal Colle is another big question. It seems like a has won the final forward spot over guys like Tom Kuhnhackl, Ross Johnston, and Josh Ho-Sang. While he was a first-round pick, the Islanders are still waiting for him to produce at the NHL level. Hopefully for him, playing with some older guys can help him get settled this season and potentially move up to one of the top lines.
Best Fourth Line in the NHL
The Islanders have one of the best fourth lines in the NHL in Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck. They play against the opposition’s top offensive line, kill penalties and score big-time goals.
Cizikas had a career-high 20 goals last season. He is one of the lone players that may have a drop-off in scoring after a career year, but can still be counted on for a lot from a fourth-line center. Both Martin and Clutterbuck have strong shots, so if they can get clean looks, they can easily combine for 15 or so this year.
Islanders’ rookie Noah Dobson will likely break into the defensive line-up this season. He was a first-round pick in 2018 and has looked sharp in the preseason. Both Toews and Pulock are going to be important for putting up points as defensemen. Both these players didn’t start the season in the NHL in 2018, but Toews was explosive when he joined the rush and Pulock’s shot could be the hardest in the game.
Nick Leddy battled an injury two seasons ago and looked sharp to end last season. Look for a real good season from him, as he will likely be paired with Dobson.
The rest of the defensemen in Johnny Boychuk, Adam Pelech, Scott Mayfield and Thomas Hickey will all likely rotate this season to keep as many players rested for what they hope will be a long run in the postseason. Hickey was the odd-man-out on Saturday, as the Islanders also gave Dobson a rest.
It’s going to be extremely hard to duplicate what the Islanders did last season, allowing the fewest goals in the league to win the Jennings Trophy. However, they are going to need to something similar with Varlamov and Thomas Greiss.
Head coach Barry Trotz will likely use both goalies as he did last year and see if one can get hot. For as much success as Lehner had last year as a Vezina Trophy finalist, Greiss had his best season in the NHL, ranking fourth in both save percentage and goals against average.
Expect to see both goaltenders get around 20 wins apiece. If one of the goalies struggles or deals with an injury, Christopher Gibson will look to bring some of his AHL success the last few seasons into the NHL.
The Metropolitan Division already featured five playoff teams last year and with the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers both picking numbers one and two respectively in the draft, both teams should be competing this season for a playoff spot. The Philadelphia Flyers seem to always stay competitive for most of the season, which means it will not be easy for the Islanders.
They should remain in the race for the entire season. If they were able to grab a guy like Artemi Panarin and prevent him from signing with the Rangers, the Islanders would have been a lock for the playoffs. Expect them to be near a playoff spot for most of the season and fight for one of the final wild card spots. They have an extremely tough schedule to begin the year, but have lots of home games.
Matt Rothman is a 2018 graduate from Florida Gulf Coast University receiving his bachelor degree in journalism. Originally from Long Island, he moved to Parkland shortly after high school. Matt worked as the assistant sports editor for his school paper, eaglenews.com in college becoming just one of nine students in his graduation class to serve over 1,000 community service hours. His goal is to travel to every Major League Baseball stadium, and has been to multiple US Open finals.