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How the NHL’s 2020-21 Plans Impact the New York Islanders

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NHL New York Islanders fans at Nassau Coliseum

What the exact thought process is for the 2020-21 NHL season still remains up in the air, but information has started to slowly emerge at what hockey fans could be seeing when the puck finally drops.

Commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed on Tuesday during a virtual panel that the NHL is looking into short-term hubs and realignment to start the new season. The league’s Board of Governors met virtually on Thursday and there was a report out earlier this week the league could present a plan in that meeting.

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Locally, what does this all mean for the New York Islanders?

The Islanders season ended in mid-September after falling to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Finals. Since then, like the rest of the NHL, the team has been waiting to see what happens for next season.

“It’s different. It’s almost like we’re back at the end of the year before the playoffs,” Ryan Pulock recently said about trying to train for next season with no firm start date. “Kind of that uncertainty and when we might start. What it’s going to look like. I think for myself it’s kind of just preparing for that early January date because no one knows.”

It would appear by all accounts that the NHL is fully invested in getting things going on or as close to that Jan. 1 date as possible. The number of games remains uncertain though it looks as though it could be anywhere between 50 and 72 according to reports in the New York Post and Sportsnet.

While the length of the season will impact every team, it won’t have the same direct impact on the Islanders as some of the other issues facing the 2020-21 season.

New York Islanders Unveil Color Scheme for Reverse Retro Jerseys

Hub Cities vs. Playing at home

It’s a big question for NHL owners and players. The NHL is weighing two options for the upcoming year, starting the season in hub cities with less stringent restrictions like they had in the playoffs or allow teams to play in their home rinks.

The hubs would be a shorter stay for teams and they would be rotated out, Bettman said during a virtual panel during the 2020 Paley International Council Summit.

“You’ll play for 10 to 12 days,” Bettman said, according to NHL.com. “You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need. It’s not going to be quite as effective as a bubble, but we think we can, if we go this route, minimize the risks to the extent practical and sensible. And so that’s one of the things that we’re talking about.”

For the New York Islanders that means, at least to start the season, they would not be playing at Nassau Coliseum and depending on where the hub city is fans won’t be in the building. For a league that makes a large portion of its revenue at the gate that would be a tough pill to swallow.

Nassau Coliseum, home of the New York Islanders

However, the idea that clubs may be able to play at their home rinks is also a possibility, but with the caveat that local restrictions might prohibit fans from being in the stands. Other states have allowed limited numbers of fans to attend NFL games this year, but COVID-19 cases have begun to spike in the New York area and Gov. Andrew Cuomo has implemented new restrictions across the state.

And the ban on fans in attendance for professional sporting events remains in place. If things remain the same, that would mean the Islanders would be playing in front of an empty Nassau Coliseum, at least to start the year, until restrictions start to be pulled back.

Divisional Realignment

One of the really interesting things that will come out of this whole situation will be a temporary divisional realignment. As of now, the border between the United States and Canada remains closed for nonessential travel meaning that the seven teams based north of the border won’t be able to travel back and forth for games.

That all leads to a likely all Canadian division for a period of time next season and a shift to a more geographic divisional alignment.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown,” Bettman said. “We may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, and that may make sense, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense.”

For the New York Islanders that means they could see Columbus and Carolina move to southeast type division, which would benefit the Islanders since both clubs have historically given New York trouble.

The Islanders are 63-69-9-7 historically against the Hurricanes.

However, it would mean they would see the Boston Bruins move into their division this season. Boston went 44-14-12 during the 2019-20 regular season and dismantled the Islanders in their final meeting of the year at Nassau Coliseum on a day they honored Butch Goring and announced that the final season before Belmont would be played on Long Island.

So while the Islanders would see two tough opponents moved to another division, they would still have to contend with a Boston Bruins team that is no pushover either.

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New York Islanders

Islanders Plus/Minus: New York Tops Buffalo … Again

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Islanders sweep Sabres

No, this is not a copy-and-paste job from the past two games. The New York Islanders did in fact beat the Buffalo Sabres, 5-2, for the third straight game on Sunday afternoon.

It was again a second period of dominance for the Islanders, who rattled off three goals to take a commanding lead they would never relinquish.

In what has probably felt like Groundhog Day for Buffalo, it was another game of missed opportunities and a (mostly) quiet effort from its superstars. The Islanders now move to 10-0-2 at Nassau Coliseum this season as they’ve continually dominated on home ice.

Let’s take a dive into what went right and wrong for the Islanders in this Plus/Minus breakdown.

 

Plus

Anders Lee: O Captain! My Captain! 

Anders Lee has made a home office for himself in front of the net throughout his career. In 2021, he’s continued that theme and thrived in the dirty areas.

His goal 5:13 into the second period Sunday gave him a goal in back-to-back games and points in four straight contests. Now with a team-leading 12 goals this season, he’s on pace to top his 20 in 68 games from last season.

Every hockey coach will wax poetic on the importance of net-front presence, and the Islanders have one of the best forwards in the game to establish control in front of the crease. Just look at the consistency from this NBCSN graphic. Teams would be best served making sure Lee doesn’t get any space in front of the goalie. This isn’t exactly a new trend, but Lee uses his 6-foot-3, 235-pound frame to his advantage.

Second period dominance: Part II

One day after the Islanders scored four in the middle period, they punched across three in the second. Lee, Brock Nelson and Casey Cizikas all scored in what felt like a sequel to Saturday’s onslaught.

SUNDAY FUNDAY! Islanders Complete Sweep of Sabres with Third Straight 5-2 Victory

Nelson, who’s now scored in two straight, seems to finally be hitting his stride. Although five of his eight goals this year have come on the power play, his last two have come at even strength, a welcome sign for the Islanders and their scoring depth. Overall, he’s recorded a point in three straight games.

The Islanders as a team had seven high danger chances for and one allowed in the second period, which led to a gaudy 74.84 expected goals for percentage. The analytics matched with the eye test and the results.

Fourth line does it again

Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck each had a point in Saturday’s win and both were key in Sunday’s follow-up.

Clutterbuck’s goal just past the halfway mark in the third was especially important as the Sabres pressured and made it a one-goal game. Off a Brandon Davidson turnover at the blue line, Clutterbuck took the puck in all alone, used a forehand to backhand move and roofed a goal just under the bar and over Jonas Johansson’s blocker.

The fourth line was all over the scoresheet in the three-game sweep over the Sabres. Matt Martin scored twice Thursday, Clutterbuck added two over the last two games and Cizikas added one Sunday.

Yes, the Sabres are far and away the worst team in the league right now, but getting scoring depth is still important for the Islanders.

Minus

Shaky third, uneven Sorokin

Down 3-0, the Sabres showed enough pushback to get into the game in the third period and did thanks to goals from Jeff Skinner and Colin Miller. For a brief second after Miller’s goal, it was a close 3-2 game and Buffalo conceivably stayed in the game had it not been for Clutterbuck’s back-breaking goal.

Sorokin wasn’t really tested through the first two periods and wasn’t as his best in the final 20 minutes. Miller’s goal was a weak one he’d like to have back, with the puck just sliding under the netminder’s arm. Sorokin did recover to make a strong save on Skinner later in the period to keep the Sabres at two goals, but it definitely was not the best period for the rookie. In the end, he did stop 24 of 26 shots.

But had it not been for Scott Mayfield saving a loose puck near the goal line late in the third period, it likely would’ve been three goals for Buffalo.

Skinner gets off the schneid

It was going to happen eventually, but Skinner scoring his first goal of the year has to fall into the negative category for the Islanders. Buffalo’s top forwards (Skinner, Jack Eichel and Taylor Hall) have notably been quiet this season.

It was a great individual effort going from behind the net to roofing a backhander from near the crease, but when a skater hasn’t scored in over 365 days, you get a minus for allowing that to change, as nit-picky as that might be.

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New York Islanders

SUNDAY FUNDAY! Islanders Complete Sweep of Sabres with Third Straight 5-2 Victory

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New York Islanders win

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — The Buffalo  Sabres showed some life, but the New York Islanders held them off in the end and wrapped up a three-game set with Buffalo with a 5-2 win on Sunday at Nassau Coliseum.

Cal Clutterbuck came up with the most important goal of the afternoon, scoring with 7:03 left in the game and Buffalo carrying the momentum after pulling within one of the Isles. Clutterbuck was able to corral the puck after Matt Martin had flipped it out of the Islanders’ end.

Buffalo defenseman Brandon Davidson fell as he tried to keep up with Clutterbuck, which gave the Islanders forward a clear path to the net to score. Brock Nelson scored on the empty net at 17:48 to seal the win.

“It was a big goal,” Clutterbuck said about the play. “I just saw Marty flip a puck out and made a really good play under pressure. The puck took a bounce and I was fortunate enough to change directions… It worked out.”

It was the third consecutive game that the Islanders had defeated their Western New York foe by a 5-2 final. Sunday was the final meeting between the two teams on Long Island.

New York and Buffalo play two more times in the final week of the regular season at KeyBank Center.

“You see them three times in a row, all in our building,” Lee said. “It’s a mini-series. That third game is tough, especially on a back-to-back, and we knew that coming in. We did a real good job sticking to our game.”

The New York Islanders extended their hold of the East Division with Sunday’s win. They now sit four points ahead of the Washington Capitals, who are in action against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday night. The Islanders took possession of the top spot in the division on Friday after Washington fell to the Boston Bruins.

Anders Lee and Casey Cizikas each scored on Sunday, and Nelson recorded his first two-goal game of the season. Ilya Sorokin picked up his fourth NHL win in goal, making 24 saves against Buffalo.

It was Sorokin’s seventh start this season.

“It’s tough to beat any team,” Nelson said. “These guys have a lot of weapons. Any team can beat anyone… so every game is going to be different every day…. We did a good job taking it one day at a time.”

Lee got the Islanders onto the board early in the second period with a redirection goal from in front of the net. Jordan Eberle sent a pass to Lee from the side of the net and the Islanders captain was able to put the puck past Buffalo starter Jonas Johansson at 5:13.

Just over a minute later the Islanders had made it a two-goal lead.

Oliver Wahlstrom was able to drive the puck into the offensive zone and then feed Nelson in the high slot. Nelson quickly got off a wrist shot that beat Johansson to make it a 2-0 game.

The goal extended Nelson’s point streak to three games and Sunday was the second consecutive game that Nelson had scored in.

The Islanders added to their lead late in the second when Cizikas scored off an impressive pass from Jean-Gabriel Pageau. The Islanders’ third line centerman backhanded a pass from the goal line over to Cizikas, who had been parked in front of the Buffalo Net.

Cizikas picked up his fourth point (one goal, three assists) in his last three games on the play and Pageau recorded his 200th career NHL assist.

Buffalo found some life in the third period to make things interesting. Jeff Skinner scored his first goal of the year at 5:41 of the final frame to break up Sorokin’s shutout bid.

Colin Miller pulled  Buffalo within one goal of the Islanders at the 9:35 mark of the third period.

Sunday’s game was nationally televised on NBC as part of Hockey Day in America. Lee and Nelson are both American-born and scored the first two goals of the game.

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Islanders Plus/Minus: New York Rolls Over Buffalo Again | NYHN+

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Islanders celebrate goal against sabres

Another day, another 5-2 win for the New York Islanders against the Buffalo Sabres. It might not have been the prettiest start in the world, but the Islanders rolled with four goals in the second period to extend their point streak to seven games. “I don’t think we were sluggish,” Barry Trotz said of the…

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