The New York Islanders are in the middle of one of their roughest patches of the season. They’ve lost seven of their last eight games and completed a five-game homestand where they went 1-2-2. They were looking to snap out of their slump against the Buffalo Sabres and earned a point by forcing overtime, but ultimately lost 3-2.
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With the overtime loss, the Islanders’ record is now 23-19-5. They needed a win to turn their season around but were outplayed by a fast and explosive Sabres team that overwhelmed them from the first period. They earned a point, but the game once again exploited the weaknesses that have held this team back and will ultimately prevent them from making the playoffs.
Islanders’ Defense Struggles
The Islanders’ defense has been a strength all season long, but in this game, it was the weak point. They allowed the Sabres to record 45 shots and constantly create scoring opportunities that could have put the game away. They managed to force the game into overtime but the Sabres’ offense controlled the puck and almost won it in regulation multiple times.
During the rough stretch that the team is currently on, the defense has struggled and failed to help out their goaltender. This game was no exception. The Islanders allowed three goals in the loss and have now allowed 11 goals in the last three games. Under former head coach Barry Trotz, the team prided itself on great defense and winning low-scoring games. However, under first-year head coach Lane Lambert, the unit has looked reckless and undisciplined in the defensive zone, often leading to easy shots on the net. While Lambert has balanced out the Islanders, the defense is no longer a strength and this game was a display of that.
Earlier in the season, Adam Pelech was hurt and placed on the injured reserve. He hasn’t played since Dec. 6 and his absence has derailed a promising season. He was one of the better defensemen on the team and against a potent Sabres offense, his presence was noticeably missing.
Sorokin’s a Star in the Net
The Islanders would have lost this game in regulation if they didn’t have goaltender Ilya Sorokin starting. He stopped 42 of the 45 shots he faced and made multiple remarkable saves to limit the Sabres to only three goals, allowing the Islanders to earn a much-needed point.
The Sabres have one of the best offenses in the league, averaging 3.77 goals per game, and in the recent game, it was on full display. They had quick passes in the offensive zone and found skaters with open shots near the net. However, Sorokin stepped up and made multiple acrobatic saves to force the game to overtime.
Appropriately, as the game went to overtime, Sorokin was named an All-Star for the first time in his career. After one of his best games of the season, he was given the recognition he deserves and acknowledged by the NHL as one of its best goaltenders. The Sabres scored shortly after the announcement to end the game, which summed up the Islanders’ season to this point. The team is carried by Sorokin who will give them a chance to win every night, but if the team around him struggles, eventually he’ll allow a few tough goals.
Nelson Snaps Out of Slump
For the first time since the Dec. 17 win against the Vegas Golden Knights, Brock Nelson scored a goal. He was selected as an All-Star but in the past month has struggled to create offense, which the Islanders have desperately needed. In the first period, Anthony Beauvillier carried the puck on the wing and with space zipped a pass to the net where Nelson tipped the puck into the goal.
The goal was Nelson’s 16th of the season and he once again led the team in the category. It was a big relief for the Islanders’ top scorer but also a reminder of his scoring instincts and ability to create offense. The Islanders have played poorly on the offensive end of the ice in recent games, with Nelson’s struggles being a primary reason for the downfall. However, if he can build off of this performance and continue to find the back of the net, he can help the team turn the season around.
Islanders’ Forward Unit Feeling Toll of Injuries
The Islanders played another game where their offense looked hapless, scoring only two goals in the 3-2 overtime loss. In the last eight games, they have only 13 goals, making the offense look like one of the worst in the NHL. There are a lot of reasons for the decline but the surplus of injuries has been one of the primary issues.
The game against the Sabres was one where they missed Kyle Palmieri and his shot on the wing, but he hasn’t played since Dec. 17. Likewise, Oliver Wahlstrom can provide a spark to the forward unit but he hasn’t played since Dec. 27 in the win against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Hudson Fasching is day-to-day with an injury while Cal Clutterbuck left the game early and didn’t return to the ice in the third period. The injuries have limited the Islanders for weeks, but the absence of multiple goalscorers was on full display on Thursday night as the offense fell apart.
What’s Next for the Islanders
The Islanders head back to UBS Arena to host the Carolina Hurricanes who are coming off a big 5-2 win over the Minnesota Wild. The Hurricanes have a 28-9-8 record, which is the best in Metropolitan Division, and the Islanders split the first two games against them in the season series, making the upcoming game a crucial one for both teams.
The Islanders are trying to power through a tough stretch in their schedule. They continue to fall in the standings and the losses are starting to pile up, making the rest of the season an uphill climb. However, if they can remain in the playoff race, they have a chance to turn it around with a hot streak. It makes the games until the All-Star break pivotal for the Islanders as they try to remain competitive in a season that is becoming increasingly difficult.
Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November 2020 and covers the New York Islanders. In addition to covering the Islanders, Fink writes about the NHL at large, looking at general topics from potential cities for NHL relocation to arena traditions throughout the league. Follow Mike on Twitter @Finks_thoughts for more Islanders and general hockey insights.