The New York Islanders kick off their 2022-23 season tonight against the Florida Panthers. As head coach Lane Lambert said this morning, “the past is in the past,” and his team, without the players saying it directly, wants to prove that last year was indeed a fluke.
Just hours from opening puck drop at UBS Arena, here are my bold predictions for the season:
Islanders To Average Three Goals Per Game
The New York Islanders offense finished the 2021-22 campaign, scoring 2.73 goals per game, which ranked 22nd in the NHL. Their laser-like focus on the defensive side of the puck limited their ability for offensive output, averaging just 28.9 shots per game, which ranked 30th in the league.
Because of the lack of elite goal scorers, being an offensive-first team is not even a remote possibility. This team dynamic preaches defense, as it is the bread and butter of the organization.
But that does not mean that the offense cannot provide more production than in years past.
Head coach Lane Lambert has asked his team to be more aggressive, including his defensemen, which should provide more offense. Players like Zach Parise, Kyle Palmieri, and Anthony Beauvillier are being relied upon to produce more than they did a year ago on a more consistent basis.
And those players, along with others, can do so because they have proven they could over their NHL careers. And with each backend pairing having an offensive-minded player, that should allow for the defense to be a much more integral part of the offense.
The New York Islanders will still need to win the close games and rely on that defense, but if they can get their goals-per-game average to 3.00 or better, they will get back into the playoffs.
Barzal to be a Point-Per-Game Player
This is a critical year for New York Islanders forward Mathew Barzal. The 25-year-old face of the franchise just signed an eight-year extension with $73.2 million ($9.15 AAV), and the new aggressive system should allow him to produce more points than we have seen in years past.
Now, Barzal’s point production is not just on him because, as a playmaker, he needs his linemates to finish off the chances he creates–which has been a struggle.
On a line with the ever-hard-working Zach Parise and a goal scorer in Kyle Palmieri, this has the potential to be a line that puts up points on a nightly basis. Barzal, no doubt, needs to shoot the puck more from high-danger areas of the ice but also needs to trust that his linemates will come through.
Barzal has not registered more than 60 points in a season over the last three, and notching 82 points will not be an easy task.
But when Mat Barzal is on, he is a dangerous player anytime he hits the ice. Eighty-two points might be asking too much, and there’s no question that this team needs all four lines rolling to be effective.
That’s why this is called a bold take, ladies, and gentlemen.
Pulock to Lead Backend in Goals
Last week, I spoke to 28-year-old defenseman Ryan Pulock about his offense. Since 2020, the offense has not been there for Pulock, a defenseman who is known for his cannon of a shot from the point. His lack of accuracy forced the hand of former Islanders head coach Barry Trotz to remove him from the top power-play unit, and currently, he is not on either power-play group.
Over the last two seasons, Pulock has scored seven total goals. In the previous three years (2017-20), Pulock had two 10-goal campaigns and one 9-goal season. The offense is in there somewhere in there, and that’s something he is trying to rediscover this season.
“That’s the biggest thing for me going forward here is just trying to improve that area of my game,” Ryan Pulock shared about bringing more offense. “I’m just always trying to get better in all areas. But I think, you know, I know inside that I can bring more offensively. I’ve done a little bit, and I still believe I can even bring more than that.”
With the emergence of Noah Dobson last year, a 13-goal season in 2021-22, he became the top defensive defenseman the Islanders have to offer, but I wouldn’t rule out Pulock from having a tremendous season.
Finally fully healthy after missing around 10 weeks last season, if Pulock can hit the net with more consistency and gain some confidence early in the season, we could see him get back to 10-plus goals.
Noah Dobson and his partner Alexander Romanov have struggled through preseason and will probably need a handful of NHL games before they are comfortable. That means Dobson will need to sit back a bit more to help negate odd-man rushes as he learns Romanov’s tendencies.
With Adam Pelech as steady as ever, Pulock in the new aggressive system may have more of an opportunity to jump in on plays and find more shooting lanes. And if he can hit the net at a higher rate, his shot from the point is rather difficult for goaltenders to track.
Ilya Sorokin Makes 55+ Starts
With Semyon Varlamov not ready for the start of the 2021-22 season, Ilya Sorokin was tasked with carrying the workload for the New York Islanders. He made 52 starts on the year, posting a .925 SV% with a 2.40 GAA.
Now, as he gets set for his third NHL season, there is no question that he will be leaned on heavily. Will he be the clear-cut number one? That’s the likely scenario, even if there is more of a split out of the gate.
“We’re taking it one game at a time. So there isn’t this elaborate plan all mapped out,” Lambert said Thursday morning following morning skate. “We’ll just take it one game at a time.”
Even if Semyon Varlamov has a bounce-back year, there’s no question that Ilya Sorokin gives the New York Islanders the best chance to win hockey games. Tampa Bay Lightning netminder Andrei Vasilveskiy made 63 starts in 2021-22, while New York Rangers netminder Igor Shesterkin made 53 starts.
Igor Shesterkin is on their level, and if, early, Sorokin proves yet again that he can handle a no.1 netminder workload, Lambert should give him the reigns.
Sixty starts might be a stretch, but 55 or more starts should be attainable.
Zach Parise Finds Fountain of Youth, Pots 20
Entering his age 39 season, Zach Parise showed no signs of slowing down in his first season with the New York Islanders. He was the only player on the roster to play in all 82 games, which was an achievement in itself, and he also took home the 2021-22 Bobby Nystrom Award.
Despite his work ethic, Zach Parise struggled to score early in the season as many chances went by the wayside.
Through 29 games, Parise scored just one goal, as he played most of his minutes with Jean-Gabriel Pageau and a young Oliver Wahlstrom. After 82 games, Parise recorded 15 goals with 20 assists, and he had a much stronger second half.
But this season, for the start of the season at least, Parise will be skating with Mathew Barzal and Kyle Palmieri.
And when you are on a line with Barzal, you will get the scoring chances.
It’s been two seasons since Zach Parise potted 20, but if he could score 15 in a down year, not alongside Mat Barzal for most of it, this year could be the year he gets back to his goal-scoring ways.