The Islanders have now played nine games without their captain, Anders Lee, and their record is a mediocre 5-4 since Lee went down with a season-ending injury on March 11 against the New Jersey Devils.
The Islanders closed out March with a 2-1 loss to the surging Pittsburgh Penguins.
It was the Islanders’ second loss in a row to Pittsburgh. The record is a bit misleading because the Islanders were lucky enough (good enough?) to win two overtime games prior to that, or their record could easily have been 3-6 without Lee in the lineup.
“It seems we want to play their game more than we want to play our game when we play the Penguins,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said after the latest loss. “I think we realize that. I think we’ve got a good understanding.”
The Islanders have trailed 2-0 after the first period in each of the last two losses.
Barzal the feed. Martin the goal. pic.twitter.com/DjXookwrjI
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) March 30, 2021
“Obviously, we’re not trying to do it,” defenseman Ryan Pulock said. “But it’s something we have to stop now and really focus on the first five minutes, first 10 minutes next game, and coming out with the best start.”
Matt Martin scored the Islanders goal on a power play in the second period.
“We have a lot of character in our room,” Martin said. “There’s no quit in our game. We have to get off to better starts. Thankfully, we’re heading home (for the next six games).”
The trade deadline is April 12, and GM Lou Lamoriello is under pressure to get a “rental” in the trade market with someone like Taylor Hall, who is seen as having the potential to give New York the goal-scoring it is lacking without Lee.
Over the last 9 games, the Islanders have scored 26 goals and given up 24. Those 26 goals translate into almost 3 goals a game, and it appears on the outside that all is well with the scoring. Except for the fact that the numbers are skewed by a 6-1 victory over the reeling Philadelphia Flyers on March 20.
Overall, March was good for the Islanders, who finished the month with an 11-4-0 record, but that is a bit of a mirage too because three of the wins were against the hapless Buffalo Sabres. And Washington was 11-2, so the Islanders can’t crow too much. And Pittsburgh was 12-3.
But finally Mathew Barzal scored a goal in the first game of the two-pack against Pittsburgh. Barzal had gone 10 straight games without scoring a goal. So there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel for him.
But since the end of February, a stretch of 16 games, Barzal has scored only 2 goals. It’s difficult to believe the Islanders can be a playoff contender without Barzal contributing more to the bottom line.
The Penguins have picked up points in 12 of their last 14 games against the Islanders… and tonight was another good night. pic.twitter.com/2Oq2XAXVQJ
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 30, 2021
April could be a brutal month for the Islanders. They play 14 games in 29 days, starting on Thursday with a home game against the Washington Capitals. The good thing is the Islanders are beginning a six-game homestand, where they have been dominant all season (13-1-2) at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
It’s going to be a grind because the Islanders play the Capitals 5 times in April and the Boston Bruins twice in a back-to-back set in the middle of the month. The Islanders also play the Rangers 4 times and the Flyers 3 more times.
The Islanders will be glad to get rid of the Penguins after having lost the season series 6-2. The Islanders have winning records against the Bruins (5-0-0), the Rangers (2-1-0) and the Flyers (2-1-2). It is the Capitals who are the problem. The Islanders are 0-3-0 against Washington.
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After 36 games this season, the Islanders have a 22-10-4 record. They are ranked 15th in goals scored per game (2.89) and 4th in goals allowed per game (2.31). Last season, they were 22nd (2.78) and 9th (2.79) in those departments.
Last season, the Islanders were 28rd in average shots taken on goal (29.6) per game and 15th in shots against (31.2). This season, the Islanders are ranked 23rd (29.3) in shots taken per game and 5th (27.4) in shots against.
Those small improvements are in keeping with the slow and steady progress that Trotz and Lamoriello have brought to the organization. Defense has been the key.
While other teams, like the Toronto Maple Leafs, worry about defense and goaltending, the Islanders are solid in the places where they should be solid.
Maybe scoring is overrated come playoff time when defenses tighten up. The lack of scoring didn’t seem to hurt the Islanders in last year’s playoff run. But last year, they had Lee in the lineup.
And the troubling thing is the Islanders can only win one way, with a few exceptions. They have to score first and then choke off the opponent with tight defense. The Islanders record bears this out. When they score first, they are 14-1-2. When they don’t they are 8-9-2.
Maybe Taylor Hall isn’t the answer. Are you going to spend a first-round draft pick on a player who has 2 goals in 34 games? Maybe the price is just too high.
But the first two weeks of April are going to see the pressure build on the trade front. Lamoriello has been savvy in the past, bringing in a great two-way player like Jean-Gabriel Pageau for last season’s run.
But does he have another rabbit in the hat?