There are plenty of reasons why the New York Islanders dropped their last two games, a 6-5 loss to the Vancouver Cancuks on Thursday and a 4-3 overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday.
One of the most significant issues, which has been an issue all season, has been the New York Islanders’ play in front of their netminders.
Time after time, especially over those last two, both Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov failed to get support in front, with multiple opponents garnering inside position, leading to screenshots and deflections.
In the loss to Vancouver, Sorokin allowed six goals, one he wants back, and maybe a few more that he has shown the ability to save.
On four of the six, this is what Sorokin had to deal with:
— Stefen Rosner (@stefen_rosner) February 10, 2023
Again, Sorokin has shown to make saves when he can’t see the puck and did get a piece on a few of these shots, but no support is no support.
Via the pictures, you can see that Noah Dobson was on the ice for three of the Canucks goals, while the Adam Pelech-Ryan Pulock pairing was on the ice for two, along with Scott Mayfield and Alexander Romanov.
It was not a one-pair issue.
And this was just on the goals, as Sorokin had to deal with this the entire night, stopping 28 of 34 shots.
In Saturday’s loss, Varlamov put forth a strong performance, stopping 27 of 31, including an odd-man rush save in overtime, before the rebound was put home by Mike Matheson.
On all four goals he allowed, defensive breakdowns were the reason:
— Stefen Rosner (@stefen_rosner) February 11, 2023
Here is the video of the overtime winner:
LE GARS DE LA PLACE!!!
— Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) February 11, 2023
So, out of the Islanders’ 10 goals allowed over their last two games, nine of them have come from breakdowns in front, with eight goals off screens.
At New York Islanders practice on Monday, Islanders head coach Lane Lambert had him work heavily on this issue.
The culprit of a few mistakes the last two games, Dobson, was the subject of a call-out from his head coach on the practice ice.
After Dobson made a mistake following a back-door tap-in,, Lambert stopped the drill.
“Dobber, is that okay?” Lambert asked in a pissed-off tone.
“It’s part of the game. We’re all grown-ups around here where we can take a beating when it’s needed,” Dobson said. “I think at times you can you get a little loose in your details, attention to detail on at this time of year. You can’t afford that.
“So I think that was the main message, just making sure we’re taking care of our details because a lot of our problems have come from little things, like not communicating and stuff like that. So we just got to make sure we’re taking care of that going forward.”
Throughout the practice, Lambert was as vocal as he has ever been. He stopped every drill, discussing exactly what a player did wrong, what a player should have done before moving on to the next drill.
It was as intense as it has been all year long, again with the emphasis on boxing out.
“The earlier you get into him, the earlier you box him out, and the less chance to have him getting to the net, and so it’s very important, Lambert said following the skate, which was shown on the video below.
Lambert walking defensemen through their mistakes on boxing out, wanting the box out to happen immediately: pic.twitter.com/dMAwztjGcj
— Stefen Rosner (@stefen_rosner) February 13, 2023
Dobson elaborated on what needs to be done on screens.
“The two defensemen have to be communicating with the low forward and who’s got who, and I think it just comes down to, to being heard in that area. I think we got to own our own net front. We got two great goaltenders.
“If we allow them to see the puck there, they’re gonna stop most of them.”
Defenseman Adam Pelech told NYI Hockey Now that communication is key.
“Communication is the backbone of what we do down there. Everyone’s on the same page, but things happen, and guys need to talk,” Pelech said. “I don’t think it’s so much guys being left wide open, all alone. I think, like myself, last game, tying up sticks, right, not allowing that shift to happen.
“We just got to continue to take pride in that, keep improving, and that’s gonna be a major part of, like keeping pucks out of our net.”
Now, the mistakes are not always on the defenseman, as there is a reliability on forwards to not only back-check but also pick up the right man, which we have seen not happen often.
“We really do need to communicate because especially like there’s always changes. They’re getting three guys high, defenseman are coming down, like activating, and it is constant communication. It’s kind of key to what we do back there.”
NYI Hockey Now spoke with Matt Martin to get his answer on the forward’s jobs.
“There has to be communication because you’re trying to track the puck as much as possible,” Martin said. “But if the guy’s got to step or whatever and the defense shift, then you got to go get the wide guy.”
As for the mistakes in front as of late, Martin says the accountability has to be on everyone.
“It’s on the forwards. We have to do a better job in keeping lanes and blocking shots, and then the low forward and the defenseman in front have to do a better job boxing out and tying up sticks and stuff.
“It’s by no means an easy assignment.”
It’s been clear over the years that the New York Islanders players know how to box out, know how to play that shutdown style of hockey. So the question became, is it the structure that is failing the group now, or are players not doing enough?
“The guys need to do a better job in those situations, Lambert said. “The structure’s there.”