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New York Islanders

Elimination Has Come, Playing the Blame Game

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New York Islanders

When you checked the standings on the NHL app this morning, eight teams in the East had the “X” next to their name, signaling their qualifications for the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs. For the first time in three years, the New York Islanders are not one of those teams.

The New York Islanders were mathematically eliminated from postseason play on Sunday night, following their 4-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

This nightmarish season for New York is almost over, and there are so many things that went wrong early on that have led to the outcome.

If you want to blame the 13-game road trip to kick off the season, go for it. But just remember that the New York Islanders were 5-2-2 through the first nine games of the trip, a strong start given their situation. Getting 13 of a possible 19 points, all on the road is something you take every day and twice on Mondays.

But the Islanders’ road trip was defined by their final four games of the trip, in which they were outscored 19-4, including a 4-0 shutout loss to the New Jersey Devils.

That was all before COVID-19 left its mark.

If you want to, you can blame COVID-19, which cost the New York Islanders their home opener, opening weekend and elongated their four-game losing streak to 11 games. The final three games of that losing streak all needed extra time, but all ended with losses to weak teams in the San Jose Sharks, Detroit Red Wings, and Chicago Blackhawks.

COVID-19 struck again, whether it was to the Islanders or their opposition, which led to starts and stops, not allowing the New York Islanders, even when healthy, to get into any sort of rhythm. The New York Islanders are a streaky team, especially on offense, which made it even harder to get any traction.

You can blame head coach Barry Trotz and his handling of Zdeno Chara and Andy Greene on the backend, two older players that are unfortunately no longer everyday NHLers.

You can blame his handling of Oliver Wahlstrom, who numerous times he called out in post-game press conferences while cutting his minutes in games, all to groom him into the responsible two-way player he has to be.

You can blame Trotz for the longer leash on veterans who were not getting the job done.

Continuing with management, you could blame general manager Lou Lamoriello for not pulling the trigger last offseason to bring in a bonafide scorer to help bolster the offense or another defenseman to counteract the loss of the puck-moving Nick Leddy.

With the Islanders playing better around the 2022 Trade Deadline, Lamoriello decided to stand pat, stating that he did not see any moves available that would have made his team better.

The lack of a significant splash last offseason should trump the no moves at the deadline, with the Islanders already having gone through what they had gone through this season.

For the record, one elite player would not have made this team a playoff team, which gets us to the most crucial part as to why this season went the way it did.

Not enough players, whether it be players brought in this season or players that have been on the island for years, had their “A” game. And yes, you can say that COVID-19 did not allow them to get into rhythms, which is true, there were too many games where too many forwards were invisible.

Only one player on the New York Islanders roster remained a consistent offensive force this season. And that’s Brock Nelson, who was forced to miss nine games due to a lower-body injury and COVID-19, which impacted his ability to do even more.

Through his 66 games played, he has a team-leading 34 goals.

The 13 goals in 17 March games surely helped his stat line, but he has been the Islanders goal leader pretty much the entire season. And when the Islanders were turning things around, his play was one of the top reasons why.

Taking Nelson out of the equation and Anders Lee for the season he has had after a torn ACL, there was just not enough production early in the season.

Kyle Palmieri, who signed a four-year extension, had just three goals in his first 30 games of the season, missing some time due to a lower-body injury before returning as a healthy scratch. Jean-Gabriel Pageau had just seven goals through his first 42 games of the season. Anthony Beauvillier, who was expected to take another step this season, had eight goals through his first 42 games.

Despite the unreal work ethic, Zach Parise had just one goal through his first 33 games as a member of the New York Islanders.

The longest-tenured New York Islanders forward, Josh Bailey, had just three goals through his first 45 games of the season.

And yes, although a playmaker, you need goal production as well.

Mathew Barzal, who had nine goals through his first 30 games, was invisible too often. And you can blame the continual line shuffles for his inability to stabilize and build chemistry with his linemates (like we are seeing now with Zach Parise), but you wanted to see more from him as well.

The Islanders averaged just 2.3 goals per game in the 39 games before the All-Star break.

Now, there’s no ignoring the defensive struggles like mentioned above, especially when Ryan Pulock went down with his lower-body injury. But, believe it or not, the Islanders have hovered around the top five all season regarding least goals against per game.

That’s in large part to the play of Ilya Sorokin, a conversation for another day.

Regardless of which reason you choose or the combination you choose, the Islanders are missing the postseason for all of these reasons and then some. The obstacles just kept coming and coming.

After back-to-back postseason runs to the semifinals, the reasons don’t change the disappointment this season brought for the franchise and their fan base.

There are seven games left in the regular season, and despite the games “not meaning” anything anymore, this New York Islanders team will continue to play hard.

“We had this discussion, we knew what the odds were,” New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said following being officially eliminated. “I think we’ve come to the realization a while ago. We’ll just continue to play and you know we’ve had to make up a lot of games. We’ve had those five games a week for a number of weeks and the tanks are a little bit low, but at the same time this group as I said will play to the end.”

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