Something has gone off the rails for the New York York Islanders, and you can point your fingers at several trouble spots. A team that has a 3-4-2 record after nine games in a shortened, 56-game season has more than one issue on their hands.
First, let’s not kick them when they are down. This is basically the same team that got all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, so the parts are still in place for success.
There have been some good things, especially the team’s efficiency on faceoffs. They rank No. 3 in the league with a 55.2% success rate.
Mathew Barzal has been delivering on the top line along with captain Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle. Barzal has four goals and 10 points, so he’s going at more than a point-a-game clip. And Lee and Eberle have scored three goals apiece.
Barzal Averaging Over 20 Minutes of Ice Time
You don’t want to play Barzal more than he has been playing. He’s averaging over 20 minutes of ice time a game, and with games so close together, you would risk wearing him out if you push him any harder
“He always wants the puck,” coach Barry Trotz said on Wednesday. “The good players do. They want to make plays.”
But what Trotz has noticed about Barzal this season is he’s also willing to give up the puck more. “With his speed, he becomes more dangerous without it,” the coach said.
Hear from Barry Trotz as he speaks with the media following practice today. pic.twitter.com/e9j2TV4Ddt
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) February 3, 2021
That top line has 10 of the team’s 19 goals or more than 50% of the team’s scoring output. You can’t ask for more than that. If anything, the No. 1 unit may get frustrated at the lack of support down below.
It’s the secondary scoring that is struggling. The bottom six forwards look like they’re skating in quicksand.
Dobson Has Been Bright Light
Amid the dark clouds, a bright spot is emerging in defenseman Noah Dobson, who is tied with Nick Leddy for the lead on the blueline with a goal and four assists. Dobson is rounding into one of the best defensemen in the league.
Against the Devils on Jan. 21, Dobson tied a career-high by playing 20:24 and recorded his first multi-point game (two assists) and blocked seven shots.
Now, let’s drill down into why this team is struggling in the East Division, where they are just as bad as the New York Rangers.
The first thing you notice is how uneven the Islanders’ scoring has been. It’s so important in this league, and the way the Islanders play, to get off to a fast start in games. And the Islanders haven’t been too bad in the first period.
In that frame, they’ve tallied nine of their 19 total goals and carry a plus-1 scoring differential in that period.
It’s in the second period, where the trouble appears. They’ve scored five second-period goals, but have allowed 11 goals for a minus-6 goal differential in the second period.
The third period hasn’t been as bad as the second. The Islanders have scored five goals in the third period while allowing three goals against for a plus-2 differential.
Of course, overtime has not been kind to the Islanders either. Two of their losses have come in overtime for a minus-2 goal differential. Overall, the Islanders are minus-5 in goal differential.
Where Is the Secondary Scoring?
The Islanders can’t seem to buy a goal after the top line comes off the ice. They have a league-low 19 goals so far. That wouldn’t be so bad if the defensive part of their game is picking up the slack. But the hard truth is the Islanders have allowed 24 goals, which places them in the bottom half of the league.
When you break it down, the Islanders are scoring only 2.11 goals a game and allowing. 2.67 goals a game. No one needs to tell them that this is not going to get them a playoff spot.
It hasn’t helped the second unit that Beauvillier suffered an injury and has missed the last four games. They also have to get Jean-Gabriel Pageau going. He’s too good to be this quiet, with only a goal and three assists.
So what can the Islanders do? They can mix and match lines and they can give more playing time to the younger group like Oliver Wahlstrom, although Trotz doesn’t like to abandon his veterans.
Wahlstrom and Kieffer Bellows are seeing around 10 minutes a game, and it seems that this is a good time to start increasing their minutes gradually.
Said Bellows: “My goal right now is to play Islander hockey, earn the trust of the coaching staff and play any way I can help the team win. Through the course of the games I’ve played, every single game I feel I’ve got more and more comfortable out there with the defensive side of it, which in turn will help the offensive side of my game.”
The Islanders have little choice but to experiment and shake things up. They have now lost five straight games, the last two coming in overtime.
“I think I’m starting to figure out which guys we need to implement, which guys are ahead in some areas,” Trotz said.
Barzal has a four-game point streak going into the Islanders’ next game on Saturday against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Islanders should be well-rested after two of their games against the Buffalo Sabres were postponed this week due to Covid-19 protocols.
On Wednesday, Trotz gave them some work in the conditioning, systems and special teams areas of their game.
Maybe the practice time will help, especially with the power play. They are getting opportunities, averaging over four power plays a game. They are getting good looks, but can’t seem to stay on the attack mode.
“We back off and reset when we have them running around, getting a little bit away from the attack mode,” Trotz said after Sunday’s overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. “They pressed us, we didn’t make some good decisions and they ended up scaring us a bit.”
It’s too much to expect Barzal to keep bailing out the Islanders. Someone is going to have to step up. The question is: Who?
With time slipping away, the Islanders must start stringing together some wins to get back in the thick of the playoff hunt.
“This is playoff mentality,” Trotz said after a 3-2 loss to the Washington Capitals last month. “I’m not sure we have the playoff mentality.”
Starting on Saturday against the Penguins, Islanders fans can only hope they see a change in attitude.