The last time the New York Islanders were at home, the result was a devastating loss at the hands of the New Jersey Devils. The 4-1 loss does not depict how much the New York Islanders struggled. While Lindy Ruff’s group played a tremendous game, the Islanders showcased a lack of effort early in the contest, something that was disappointing for the fans, and head coach Lane Lambert, with the players understanding that that could never happen again.
Now, with the New York Islanders trying to end a three-game pointless streak, a battle with the New York Rangers is amongst them. The Rangers are also a team on a skid (0-1-2), but despite their struggles as of late are likely to be a top team in the Metropolitan Division.
It won’t be an easy game against their arch-rivals, but it starts with a strong start in front of what will be a wound-up crowd.
The biggest issue for the New York Islanders over this skid has been getting to their game early. In the loss to the New Jersey Devils last Thursday, the Islander escaped the first period without allowing a goal but were outshot 13-3. Jack Hughes got the Devils on the board less than a minute and a half into the second period, and away they went.
Against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday, the Islanders were better, outshooting the Lightning 11-7 in the first period, but found themselves down 2-1 after one due to costly mistakes in their own zone–which is not something you can do against these stronger team.
The Islanders then took a step back against the Florida Panthers, being outshot 15-8 in the first period, allowing a goal just 39 seconds into the contest. They trailed 2-0 after the opening twenty and 3-1 entering the third before ultimately losing 3-2.
“It’s so important to bring our game back and show our fans, show ourselves that we can play our game with good structure, [and] with a good attitude,” New York Islanders defenseman Alexander Romanov said to NYI Hockey Now. “We can play our game, score so many goals.
“We showed it with the Ducks and with the Sharks that we can play this game, so we need to bring our game back.”
As Romanov mentioned, the Islanders did pop off against the Anaheim Ducks, scoring seven goals and allowing just one, and against the San Jose Sharks, scoring five while allowing two.
Despite those teams being weaker than the teams the Islanders have faced and will face over the next few, that’s the kind of game the Islanders can play. It’s a race to get to their game before their opponent gets to theirs.
“It’s a big game for us. We know they played last night too, so we want to come out and make sure we put the puck behind them, go after them,” New York Islanders forward Jean-Gabriel Pageau told NYI Hockey Now. “We know a lot about them. Obviously, we’ve played them a lot. So I think we need to focus on what we have to do.”
“On our team effort, we need to play the way we want as an Islander team, play to our identity, which is a hard team to play against, and that’s got to be [the case] for sixty minutes.”
A positive on the Islanders season so far has been the play of the fourth line, a line that looks rejuvenated this season.
Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck are back to full strength, and Casey Cizikas is flying around the ice at a speed we did not see last season.
NYI Hockey Now caught up with Cal Clutterbuck following Wednesday’s morning skate to talk about his line.
“I think last year was tough for everybody. And I think when the team’s not succeeding, I think everybody sort of takes a hit,” Clutterbuck said. “I think if everyone were to assess themselves personally last year, it’s hard to say that any one of us would have been overly thrilled with the way the year went, in its entirety. I’m sure we had spurts just like everyone did last year.”
“I think we’re healthy.”
And health was a huge issue last season with the identity line.
“Marty had that ankle problem last year that I think was kind of holding him back a little bit. And I know it’s a tough thing when you start here the way we did last year. Your confidence gets a little shattered,” Clutterbuck said. “So I think [we had] a nice summer, and we spent a lot of time together. We were all here together, put some work in.”
“Our desire and the way that we play the game never really changes. I think it’s just us going out there, being effective, and having the team sort of follow suit and play well, as well.”
The fourth line this season has played the most minutes for New York Islanders head coach Lane Lambert.
In 37.9 minutes, per Money Puck, the identity line has scored two goals of their own, with Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck each potting one. In terms of Shots For and Shots Against, that number sits at 32 for each side. But regardless of the shots, this threesome has an Expected Goals For of 1.8, while their opponents sit at just 0.9.
We will see if this line starts the night for the New York Islander against the New York Rangers, and if they do, setting the tone early will be critical. But equally important is the other three lines following suit for the Islanders to get to their gameplan early and force the Rangers into their trap, rather than the other way around.