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New York Islanders

What’s Changed for the New York Islanders This Season?



New York Islanders

The New York Islanders have a ways to go before the end of their season, with 43 more games left on the schedule. This season has not gone as planned, but what has been different this season compared to the last two?

Honestly, not much.

In 2019-20, the New York Islanders had a 35-23-10 record when the COVID-19 pandemic forced a pause in the season. The Islanders had scored 2.78 goals per game (10th fewest) and allowed 2.79 goals per game (10th fewest).

Due to the lack of every team’s ability to play 82 games, with the Islanders only at 68, the playoffs were expanded to 24 teams, with the teams ranked based on point percentage.

The Islanders were able to take advantage of this situation, as they got in and knocked off the Florida Panthers in five games in the Qualifying Rounds, then the Washington Capitals in the First Round after five games, followed by the Philadelphia Flyers in seven, before losing to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning in six.

In those playoffs, the Islanders averaged 3.00 goals per game and allowed 2.32.

Due to the Canadian government’s handling of the Coronavirus, the NHL was forced into divisional realignment for the 2020-21 NHL season which paid dividends for the New York Islanders.

They welcomed the Buffalo Sabres and Boston Bruins into their division and said goodbye to the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Carolina Hurricanes.

In the 56-game season, the Islanders went 32-17-7, as they decimated the bad teams and played well against Boston, as they finished in the final playoff spot in the Mass Mutual East Division.

That season, the Islanders offense scored 2.71 goals per game (21st) but allowed the second-fewest goals per game at just 2.23.

For the second-straight postseason, the Islanders underdog mentality took them far, as they knocked off the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games in the First Round, before taking down the Boston Bruins in six games in the Second Round.

Then came a rematch with the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Semi-Finals, where the Islanders took them to seven games before a 1-0 loss sent them packing.

The Islanders offense scored 2.84 goals per game, the offense being the major reason they fell short against Tampa. The Islanders defense had allowed 2.79 goals per game and was the major reason for their advancements.

Two shortened seasons and league decisions undoubtedly helped the New York Islanders get into the playoffs.

It was strong play against the weak teams that allowed them the chance at competing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and it was their system under head coach Barry Trotz and their commitment to the system that allowed them to complete numerous “upsets”.

But here we are in 2021-22 and I ask you yet again, what’s changed?

The Islanders offense has still been a weakness. The Islanders have continued to beat up on weaker teams with a record of 12-3-3 against teams under .500. The Islanders have continued to rely heavily on their defense and netminders.

The biggest change has been the NHL getting back to a full 82-game season.

If the Islanders were going to make it to the postseason for a fourth-straight season, they would need to be able to showcase a consistent brand of hockey for a longer period of time other than just a few hot streaks, especially in a division full of as much talent as the Metropolitan.

There was no longer a luxury of playing a weaker team eight times a season or relying on point percentages.

A place in the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs would need to be completely earned and so far, the Islanders have failed to play with much sense of consistency.

The Islanders, in what should be a full 82-game season, are 16-17-6 after 39 games. They sit 17 points out of a Wild-Card spot and are ranked 25th in the NHL. Their offense has scored the third-fewest goals per game at 2.36 and have allowed 2.62 goals against per game (6th fewest).

And yes, there have been many obstacles in the New York Islanders’ way from the 13-game road trip to kick off the season, being forced to play through COVID-19 hell, the injuries to key players like Ryan Pulock and Brock Nelson…the list goes on and on.

But the Islanders had been solid through their first nine games on the road (5-2-2), before being dominated in their last four games.

What’s hurt the Islanders in all facets of their game has been the inability to transition up the ice.

With defenseman Nick Leddy on Detroit, the Islanders did not bring in someone that fit his skill set as a puck carrier.

Pulock’s absence has not helped the cause but a player like 44-year old Zdeno Chara or 39-year old Andy Greene are not mobile. More often than not, especially with Chara, the move is to just flip the puck up as high as possible out of the zone, which leads to zero transition.

Noah Dobson has elevated his play this season but is still just 22-years old. All-Star defenseman Adam Pelech has been by far the Islanders strongest player this season, but one guy can only play so much.

Although the Islanders offense has been brutal at finishing off chances, the lack of ability to create chances off the rush has severely hurt them, and that comes from passes in the defensive zone through the neutral zone.

That is not just referring to off-target passes from defenders to forwards, but a lack of focus by the forward group to catch the passes and make the smart plays as well as a severe lack of communication.

And that lack of communication with transitioning has led to pucks into the back of their nets. Opponents have been handed prime scoring chances, chances that over the last two seasons the Islanders netminders have not had to deal with at this high of a rate.

Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov have not been given the help this season that they had been given previously, and although they have had blunders of their own, the lack of offensive support has led to little chance for success.

So the issues for the New York Islanders have remained the same year after year. This season those issues have been exploited while the backbone, the play in the Islanders own zone, has not been as sharp.