Doing anything in the middle of the pandemic is fickle and unpredictable, and that clearly applies to the NHL.
The New York Islanders had both of their weekday games against the Buffalo Sabres postponed this week after Taylor Hall and Rasmus Ristolainen were put on COVID-19 protocol. Contact tracing was delayed and that put the Thursday night game out of the question.
So instead of coming back immediately off a winless road trip, the Islanders have to wait until at least Saturday when they host Pittsburgh at Nassau Coliseum. This breaks up the obvious flow of the season and gives the Islanders more practice time than they otherwise would’ve had.
With the extra practice sessions and three of the next four games at home (and the one road game coming at Madison Square Garden), Barry Trotz and the Islanders have a chance to right the ship in an almost accidental bye week.
“I think it’s a good opportunity to do some stuff, we worked on some stuff,” Trotz said. “We got some work in in the conditioning area. We got some work in the systematic area. Some areas of special teams. Some rush stuff. It’s good stuff to go over and we’ll prepare for Pitt.”
There are plenty of holes you can dissect on this team at this point, especially after a stretch of five games without a win. The obvious is the dearth of scoring depth outside of Mathew Barzal. The second line, particularly Brock Nelson, has been invisible at times and not producing enough.
Trotz could use this time to test a few different combinations on his wing, whether that’s keeping Jordan Eberle there or maybe even experimenting with the young Oliver Wahlstrom. So far, Wahlstrom, who scored his first NHL goal in Washington, has a 57.58 Corsi For percentage and could bring a little more speed and skating ability in a similar vein to Anthony Beauvillier.
— Isles on MSG+ (@IslesMSGN) January 29, 2021
Defensively, they’re in the top-11 in goals allowed per game at 2.67. Andy Greene has had the toughest start, whether you’re looking at it from an eye test point of view or a metrics one. He has the worst Corsi percentage of any of the Islanders blue liners, so he could be a candidate Trotz could look to rest. Thomas Hickey and Sebastian Aho are options on the taxi squad, and while they might not be a drastic improvement, a marginal one is still helpful at the least.
And what’s been a theme of the Islanders the last few years has been a struggle to find a consistent power play. They’re connecting at 15.79 percent on the man advantage, nearly six percentage points below league average. Even their penalty kill (77.78 percent) ranks 25th in the league. Right now they have a net-0 goals on special teams, which is something that clearly needs to get better.
The lack of offense has put more pressure on the goaltenders, Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin. The former has been stout in net and owns a .922 even-strength save percentage. Aside from a weak effort against Washington, Varlamov has been a strong backbone.
The rookie Sorokin hasn’t had much in the way of offensive support and has looked better since his rocky five-goal first start against the New York Rangers. Whether it’s rebound control or positioning in the crease, Sorokin still can make some tweaks as he adjusts from the KHL game to the NHL one.
Tied with the New York Rangers as the worst team in the East Division, the Islanders can use this time to make adjustments on the practice rink and eventually at Nassau Coliseum to get the season back on track.