After a big 2-1 win against the Carolina Hurricanes, the New York Islanders were hoping to cap off the back-to-back with another big win on the road against one of the league’s best teams. Unfortunately, the Islanders were easily defeated by the St. Louis Blues in the second game with a four-goal second period being the team’s undoing. The 6-1 loss was the second time all season the team lost by five goals, but the defeat is coming at a time when this team can’t afford to drop games.
The Islanders now have a 33-29-9 record and remain 13 points behind the Washington Capitals for the second wild card spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The playoffs seem out of reach for the team, but the hope is in the final weeks of the season, the Islanders can pile on the wins and look like the team that reached the Stanley Cup Semifinal in the previous two seasons. The recent loss to the Blues, however, was a reminder of why the team remains on the outside of the playoffs in the Eastern Conference with some struggles continuing to cost them.
Islanders Struggle In Their Zone
A recurring issue for the Islanders throughout the season has been the inability of the skaters to successfully clear the puck out of the defensive zone. Creating turnovers is an easy task for the defensemen like Adam Pelech, Ryan Pulock, and Noah Dobson. However, once the Islanders gain possession of the puck, they struggle to start up the offense.
In their recent 3-2 loss to the Dallas Stars, multiple costly turnovers in the defensive zone allowed the opponent to outshoot the Islanders 40-21 and maintain possession. Similarly, the Blues received plenty of easy shots on the net following sloppy play from the Islanders skaters. The Blues’ offense, which averages 3.63 goals per game, possesses the skill to take advantage of turnovers. They found the back of the net twice in the first period and with four goals in the second period, putting the game out of reach.
The Islanders will use the final 11 games to evaluate the roster, helping determine their primary needs. The recent two losses, highlighted by the defeat to the Blues, were just another reminder of the need for puck-handling defensemen who can help turn defense into instant offense.
Varlamov’s Tough Night
In five of the last six starts, Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov has faced 30 shots or more in a game. The Islanders’ defense has forced their 33-year-old goaltender to make multiple big saves to keep games close. Last night’s game was no exception, as the Blues generated 31 shots on the net. Unfortunately, Varlamov struggled in the net, allowing six goals in the first 40 minutes of the game.
Varlamov wasn’t picking up the Blues’ shots or the puck in general, resulting in the surplus of goals. The Blues scored three of their six goals from their defensemen with Justin Faulk scoring twice as the Islanders’ opponent found open shots from the point and found the back of the net against the veteran goaltender. Varlamov has helped the Islanders rebound on the season. While splitting starts with Ilya Sorokin, he has helped give the team a strong goaltending duo, but nothing went right for the 33-year-old goaltender on Saturday.
Hutton Scores His First NHL Goal
One of the few bright spots in the Islanders’ loss was 26-year-old defenseman Grant Hutton finding the back of the net for his first goal in the NHL. The young defenseman collected the puck from the point and fired it in without hesitation, giving the Islanders their first and only goal of the game. Hutton has been on the defensive unit filling in for Scott Mayfield, who is out for the rest of the season with a lower-body injury. While the young defenseman has struggled at times, one of his best attributes has been his shots from the blue line. In the recent game, it finally showed and provides hope that the team can find another playmaker from the point.
Other Islanders Takeaways from the Loss
The Islanders played the recent game without their fourth-line center Casey Cizikas, who was serving a one-game suspension for boarding in the game against the Hurricanes. Against the Blues, it became clear the Islanders missed their strong forechecking center who could control the defensive zone. With Cizikas out, the Blues controlled the puck for the majority of the game. More importantly, they confidently found open ice near the net, allowing them to pile on the goals.
The Islanders’ next game is against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday at UBS Arena. The Penguins are one of the best teams in the Metropolitan Division but a team the Islanders will look to bounce back against, hoping to put together a strong finish to the season.