After the first five games of the 2020-21 NHL regular season, the New York Islanders find themselves facing a familiar problem from last season: lack of scoring.
In two of the five games, the Islanders have been shut out, including Sunday night’s 2-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils. And in five games, the Islanders have tallied only 9 goals, or fewer than two goals a game.
That offense is even worse than it looks because in two of the games, the Islanders erupted for four goals each.
If you strip out a 4-0 opening-night win against the New York Rangers and a 4-1 victory over these same Devils on Jan. 21, the Islanders have produced only one goal in three games, with that one coming in a 1-0 win over the Boston Bruins.
“We need everybody contributing through our lineup. Right now we’re not getting enough from every line.”
Barry Trotz ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/uARdAmMx5S
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) January 25, 2021
As the Islanders prepare for two games against the Washington Capitals, their total of 9 goals is last in the league, tied with the Carolina Hurricanes, who have played only three games up to this point.
The scoring problems can be hidden somewhat behind a respectable 3-2 record, which leaves the Islanders in the thick of the race in the East Division. But their winning record so far owes mostly to the team’s defensive strengths provided by a pair of shutout victories by Semyon Varlamov.
On the flip side, the Islanders are among the top five NHL teams having allowed only eight goals in five games. This defensive structure is a theme that is likely to play out for the rest of the NHL season. As is the team’s scoring troubles.
The lack of scoring manifests itself in several ways. The power play is one key metric, and the Islanders are firing at only 18% efficiency, having scored four power-play goals on 22 opportunities. That mark puts them in the bottom half of the league.
Let’s look at the individual scoring leaders. As the saying goes, your best players have to be your best players, and Mathew Barzal is holding up his end of the bargain, to a certain extent. Barzal, who signed a three-year, $21 million extension prior to the season, leads the team with four points on two goals and two assists.
But there are troubling signs with Barzal too. He’s looked dangerous at times and ready to break out for a spectacular season, and other times, he has disappeared. Barzal’s best game was his three-point effort against the Devils on Jan. 21.
Barzal was showing speed and getting great looks. But how do you account for the fact that in three of the team’s first five games, he has not registered a single shot on goal despite averaging almost 20 minutes a night?
As a team, the Islanders’ offense is being stifled because they are not getting enough shots on goal. The Islanders rank in the bottom half of the league, with only an average of 27.2 shots a game. But it’s not like they are leading the league in defending either because they don’t rank in the top 10 for shots against by having allowed an average of 27.6 shots a game.
When you are allowing more shots than you are taking, you can see how this might be a bad pattern for the Islanders as they continue their path in this strange, condensed 56-game schedule.
And while even Barzal is a bright spot on offense for the Islanders, a closer look at his shooting average will tell you that he is scoring on 20% of the shots he has taken. That is not sustainable. Barzal is averaging 11.5% in career shooting percentage. For him to continue leading the team in offense, it’s clear. He’s going to have to get more shots on goal.
The good news is that the Islanders are getting goals from the people you expect. And the goals are well distributed with Barzal, Jordan Eberle, Anders Lee and Brock Nelson tallying two goals apiece. The other goal has come off the stick of Jean-Gabriel Pageau. Of course, Anthony Beauvillier is too good to not have scored at least one goal through the first five games, and now it appears he is injured after leaving Sunday’s game in the second period.
Although it’s comforting to Islanders fans to see the best players producing, this has perhaps masked another troubling trend. No goals yet from the defense and only one goal (Pageau) from the bottom six forwards.
Certainly, it’s hard to draw huge conclusions from the first five games with so many dates crammed together so fast.
But at least this gives us a small sample size of what the Islanders are and what they are not. You can expect the Islanders to be solid defensively through the rest of the season. But whether they can start generating more shots and more goals will likely be a theme that will haunt them the rest of the way.
“We need everybody contributing throughout our lineup,” coach Barry Trotz said after the Islanders’ 2-0 shutout loss on Sunday. “Right now we’re not getting enough from every line. We need a little more finish. The way you breakthrough is by getting to the net a little bit more.”