The New York Islanders just finished off a five-game road trip (1-2-2) with a lackluster 5-3 loss to the New York Rangers on Thursday night, in which they blew their first third-period lead of the season.
It was a road trip that saw the New York Islanders throw some points out the window.
In their first game out west against the Arizona Coyotes, the Islanders blew a two-goal lead, ultimately losing that one 5-4.
They held off a Vegas Golden Knights team on their way to a 5-2 victory, the Islanders’ only win on the trip.
Then after playing a solid 25 minutes of hockey in Colorado, the Islanders got exposed defensively, but thanks to netminder Ilya Sorokin, the Islanders got a critical point losing 1-0 in a shootout to the Avalanche.
Besides the lack of offense in a few games, the defensive play has been the most significant concern–and it’s not close.
This year, the Islanders’ defensive play may still have them as a top-10 defense. Still, there’s no question that their push for offense has negatively affected their ability to play the responsible brand of hockey that had been their bread-and-butter during the Barry Trotz era.
Last year’s struggles defensively made sense, given the personnel.
It just hasn’t worked out to the level the Islanders would have hoped.
New York Islanders head coach Lane Lambert started the season with these defensive pairs:
Adam Pelech-Ryan Pulock
Alex Romanov-Noah Dobson
Robin Salo-Scott Mayfield
But throughout 34 games, Lambert has used 11 combinations on the backend.
And then the Islanders got dealt their most significant blow as one of the better defensemen in the NHL, Adam Pelech, went down with an upper-body injury and has yet to skate since Dec. 6.
In his absence, Salo came back into the mix alongside Pulock, but his play had been questionable, with his worst showing of the season coming Thursday night in the loss to the Rangers.
Salo’s mistakes led directly to two Rangers goals, while Aho and a few forwards were careless, leading to the Rangers’ go-ahead goal with under three minutes to play.
As Lambert tries to find the right combos, he has given the Romanov-Dobson pairing another go, using them as a pair since against Vegas and keeping them together over the last three games.
And to their credit, the two have looked much better as a pair, but Dobson has struggled in his own zone all season despite his offensive output.
The Pelech loss has been detrimental, and no one on the roster or in the system can fill that hole.
And with no timetable for Pelech’s return, as he will miss his eighth straight game Friday night, their lack of structured defensive play may prove fatal as the season progresses.
But it’s not just on the defensive players.
A handful of forwards have been careless as well, especially when the puck has been on their sticks in the defensive zone.
Players blindly pass the pucks, leading to offensive chances and goals for the opposition. The inability to get pucks out, whether at five-on-five or while the Islanders have been shorthanded, has been detrimental.
As much as Mathew Barzal has brought the offense this season, he has turned the puck over too often.
This is a team sport for a reason, and the Islanders are struggling to play consistently on both sides of the ice, which is why they are on the outside looking in, two points shy of the Washington Capitals for the second wild-card spot.
The New York Islanders have one final game before the Christmas break but then return to face a hot Pittsburgh Penguins team before a must-win game against the Columbus Blue Jackets before a difficult four-game Western trip to ring in the new year.
If the defensive blunders continue and Pelech cannot return soon, the Islanders’ lack of defensive cohesiveness may prove fatal.