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What We Have Learned Through First Two Preseason Games

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New York Islanders, Aatu Räty
New York Islanders prospect Aatu Räty (Photo via New York Islanders Twitter)

A 4-1 loss Monday, a 4-1 loss Tuesday. That’s how the New York Islanders kicked off their preseason slate, dropping games to the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils.

Although preseason does not mean much, with a handful of players in the games who will not be in the NHL in 2022-23, these games show us which players seem ready for NHL action, which players need further development, and some areas of the New York Islanders that needs to be a focal point in practice before opening night on Oct. 13.

Here’s what we have learned through the first two preseason games.

Lambert’s System Not the Same As Trotz’s

Former New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz was a firm believer in having a dominant defensive-minded structure, working from the back up to create offensive production. The Islanders had postseason success in 2020 and 2021 due to this shutdown system, and while it worked as long as it could, the inability to get that extra goal proved rather costly.

With Lane Lambert at the helm, the expectation is that the Islanders would play a bit looser but still play with the understanding that the club’s strength is on the backend.

The Islanders’ structure, or lack thereof, was exposed through the first two preseason games.

And that’s to be expected, especially in a new system, with a mix-match of NHL players and NHL hopefuls. But it seemed the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils were more ready to play in game-like situations.

“I just think, you know, getting back to game shape and obviously, there’s some tweaks and things we’re doing under Lane Lambert that we didn’t do under Barry Trotz,” Matt Martin shared following the 4-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday.

“So just to kind of get some game action and let’s figure it out on the fly, it goes a long way.”

The Islanders have not yet focused any attention at training camp on breakouts and structural alignment, which should happen as soon as the group gets cut down. It’s a reason for what has transpired on the ice over the last two days.

“I mean, we haven’t spent a lot of time on our practice to this point because, you’ve been there for practice, battles, conditioning, competitive, trying to get the rust out a little bit, and I’m sure as camp progresses we’ll get into it more, and our structure will be a lot better.”

Offense Hard to Come By

The New York Islanders’ most significant weakness in 2021-22 was their lack of consistent offense. Scoring just 2.79 goals per game, good for 23rd in the NHL, New York needs to see that number rise closer to three to give themselves a chance in a tough, offensive Metropolitan Division.

Creating offense and executing offensive plays has been a struggle early, with just two goals over 120 minutes. The New York Islanders have also been outshot 61-49, 48-47 at even strength.

We have seen the defense get active on the offensive side of the puck, something the Islanders need to help create more opportunities.

Defensemen have registered 14 shots on goal over the first two preseason games, 28 percent of the team’s total shots.

We have seen many shots miss the net and for a team that does not muster many chances, hitting the net becomes critical.

Special Teams Fiasco

Let’s preface this section by saying that the New York Islanders have not practiced special teams yet during training camp–and it showed.

Through two games, the Islanders power play has not come through on their first nine opportunities, with a total of 12 shots.

They have also allowed six shorthanded shots against and one shorthanded goal, with K’Andre Miller burying an odd-man rush with the Rangers down a man on Monday night.

The Islanders’ penalty kill has allowed one goal on five opportunities and eight shots against. That lone power-play goal against came off a Jimmy Vesey sharp-angle shot, caroming in off netminder Semyon Varlamov’s helmet shot on Monday.

Islanders Standouts

Through the first two games, forwards Simon Holmstrom, Aatu Räty, and William Dufour, along with defenseman Robin Salo have been the four strongest players for the New York Islanders.

Simon Holmstrom (19:02 TOI, 2 SOG) and Robin Salo (18:24 TOI, 5 SOG, 1 G) played on Monday, while Aatu Räty (19:38 TOI, 3 SOG, 40% FO), and William Dufour (14:31, 1 SOG) played on Tuesday.

Of these four players, Robin Salo has the strongest chance of cracking the opening night roster as the Islanders’ no. 6 defenseman. Holmstrom seems to be the next in line for a forward call-up, but Räty is right there. Dufour, who has not played in the AHL yet in his career, needs to further his development as he transitions from the QMJHL.

Initial Thoughts on Dobson-Romanov Pairing

It seems that 22-year-old defensemen Alexander Romanov and Noah Dobson will be the Islanders’ second defense pairing come opening night. They have been together throughout training camp and skated with one another over the summer.

With Romanov as more of a physical, defensive-minded player and Dobson more of a transition, offensively-minded defenseman, these two can be a well-balanced duo.

The one concern is their youthfulness despite both having two-plus years of NHL experience. Romanov is coming into a new system after two seasons with the Montreal Canadiens and a newer, more critical role. After a breakout season in 2021-22, Dobson still needs to work on his defensive game.

The two played with one another in the Islanders first preseason game, the 4-1 loss to the Rangers on Monday night.

There were some miscommunications throughout the night, one on the Rangers second goal of the contest, a Chris Kreider goal, in which Romanov lost his man in front.

And that’s to be expected. Just like it took Zdeno Chara and Dobson time to learn one another’s game, there is the expectation that it will take some time before these two are entirely comfortable with one another.

Dobson was the only one of the two to register a shot on goal.

Per Natural Stat Trick, the defensive duo played 13:03 minutes together at 5-on-5 Monday night, with the Islanders being outshot 10-1, out-chanced 10-7 when they were on the ice. They were also on the ice for that one goal against.

With an off day Wednesday, the Islanders should be cutting down their rosters ahead of training camp on Thursday. That will mean more focus on the NHLers and getting them ready for the season than testing out the prospects.

The New York Islanders’ next preseason game is Sunday, Oct. 2, at UBS Arena, as they host the Philadelphia Flyers.

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