There are seven games left in the regular season and the New York Islanders are trending in the wrong direction. Right now, it would still take a catastrophic collapse for the Islanders to miss the postseason, but with their five-on-five game struggling and their offense hard-pressed to find the back of the net New York is heading into the playoffs on the wrong foot.
What’s become abundantly clear has been the correlation between the lack of scoring from the top line and the team’s inability overall to score in a given game. The Islanders are 2-4-1 since the NHL trade deadline and they’ve been shutout three times in the seven games since then.
They’ve been outscored 18-14 in that span, which is inflated by the 6-1 win they had over the New York Rangers on April 20. Without that game, their total goals in that stretch drops down to eight.
Jordan Eberle and Mathew Barzal have remained mainstays on the top line, while head coach Barry Trotz has mixed in Travis Zajac, Leo Komarov and Josh Bailey to try and fill the void left by an injured Anders Lee. Neither one of them has said the constant lineup flux has impacted their game, but it’s safe to say it hasn’t helped it.
“I’m used to playing with different players and I’m used to having lines switched up, and playing with different players,” Barzal said. “I’ve been with most of these guys now for three or for years. I’ve played with almost every guy. It’s just going out there and trying to work hard. Whether I’m with Leo, (Zajac), Leezy, whoever.
“Just trying to play to their strengths. … That’s just where it really comes down to, finding that chemistry as quick as possible.”
While Barzal might be trying to play to the strengths of the guys put next to him, now might be the time that someone is put on his wing that plays to his strengths. Barzal hasn’t scored a goal since his hat trick on April 1 against the Washinton Capitals, while Eberle has been held to just one goal over his last seven games.
While Komarov, Bailey and Zajac have their roles to play on this Islanders squad, it isn’t on the team’s top line.
When Lou Lamoriello went out and traded for Palmieri and Zajac, the expectation was that Palmieri would be playing on the top line in the spot Lee had been so successful in with Barzal and Eberle. In the nine games since that deal, we have yet to see Palmieri get an opportunity on the team’s most important offensive unit.
Kyle Palmieri has struggled to find the back of the net this year, in part because he spent most of it playing on a New Jersey Devils team that also struggled to score. However, the offensive output still hasn’t come since joining the Islanders.
He did score in his third game as a member of the Islanders — a power-play goal no-less — but since then he has been quiet.
— Isles on MSG+ (@IslesMSGN) April 11, 2021
Kyle Palmieri has played well and generated chances, recording 18 high danger chances since joining the Islanders, according to Natural Stat Trick. His Corsi For percentage of 45.54 is also fifth-best among Islanders forwards in that span and he has an xGF percentage of 43.82.
With seven games to go before the end of the regular season, the Islanders have still been trying to figure out the right line combinations and it’s time that Palmieri gets his chance to play alongside Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle.
“We’re trying different people, I don’t think it’s one game,” Trotz said about the prospect of Palmieri playing with Barzal and Eberle. “He might be next on the list. You can do that. There’s nothing saying that you can’t (play him there). He’s just on the list of potential candidates.”
There was some thought that Trotz was hesitant to have Kyle Palmieri play there due to the fact that there would be three right-handed shots on the same line. The Islanders coach appeared to dismiss that idea.
Adding Kyle Palmieri could help jumpstart a top line that needs to get going in time for the Islanders to make a run in the playoffs. The Islanders are at their best when they can roll four lines, but they need their best players at their best, and that means Barzal and by extension Eberle, generating chances and leading the offensive charge.
Giving them a noted goal-scorer and someone that can fill that Lee role a bit more naturally would certainly do that. The idea is one that Barzal has given thought to.
“You obviously run the possibility through your mind of playing with either one of those guys,” Barzal said about playing with Palmieri or Zajac. “That’s on Barry. He knows our lineup really well and he knows what everybody brings. What lines seem to need. I just go out there and play with whoever I’m with and try to make the best of it.”