The New York Islanders had an interesting season, to say the least. Another significant injury led to subpar play, but a point-streak and dominant records against the bottom-feeders in the East Division saw them punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup playoffs for the third consecutive season.
The Islanders First Round matchup with the Pittsburgh Penguins begins on Sunday, but before that let’s take a look at some of the players who made the biggest impact to get the Isles to where they are. From Semyon Varlamov’s play in net to the surprising impact Leo Komarov has had on this season, here are some of the superlatives for the regular season.
Most Valuable Player: Semyon Varlamov
The New York Islanders number one netminder, Semyon Varlamov, had himself a career year. Varlamov stayed consistent throughout the entire campaign, unlike his team. In 35 games, the 13-year veteran sported a 2.24 goals-against average with a save percentage of .929, both of which were career bests.
He posted a league’s best goals saved above average (GSAA) of 21.7, the second-highest mark of his NHL career. He was able to rack up seven shutouts, a career and NHL best, with four of that seven coming against the cross-town rival New York Rangers. Varlamov finished the season with the second-best save percentage in the NHL amongst goalies with one thousand minutes played.
Although the Islanders’ defensive structure limited prime scoring opportunities for opponents, Varlamov bailed his team out quite a bit this season. He finished fifth in high-danger save percentage (.847 SV%) and second in the fewest goals-allowed off those chances (1.02 HDGAA), according to Natural Stat Trick.
Varlamov also went on a stretch of 248:00 without allowing a goal, the 12th longest stretch in NHL history.
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) May 4, 2021
Varlamov left the team’s final game on Monday and did not practice Wednesday or Thursday. Head coach Barry Trotz was unconcerned that his veteran netminder would not be able to go once the playoffs begin.
Comeback Player of the Year: Casey Cizikas
Fourth-line centerman Casey Cizikas, for the first in his NHL career, did not miss a single game of the shortened 56-game season. While it was 26 games shorter than usual, his ability to stay in the lineup was needed after the messy 2019-20 campaign where Cizikas missed 20 games due to a skate laceration. He and his linemates benefited immensely from the COVID-19 hiatus and went on to have a strong playoff before a detached retina forced him to miss the last four games of the playoffs.
Cizikas suffered a scare in the final scrimmage before the start of the season, but he didn’t miss any time from it and started the season healthy. He has stayed that way ever since.
Cizikas went on to win 53.21 percent of face-offs this season, which was second-best amongst Islander centermen. While the offensive production was not on par with what he showcased a few years ago, Cizikas scored some timely goals. More importantly, he was a catalyst on the penalty kill, which saw them finish sixth-best in the NHL with an 83.7 percent success rate.
Cizikas was the New York Islanders nominee for the Bill Masterton Trophy.
Cizikas ended the season with seven goals and seven assists in 56 games played. Two of those goals were game-winners.
Most Surprising Player: Leo Komarov
Whether he is a fan favorite or not, the respect level needs to be there for Leo Komarov. The bottom-six forward earned his minutes due to his defensive prowess and penalty kill ability and became the team’s first line winger when Anders Lee went down.
While it took a bit for him to get acclimated, he slowly but surely figured out how to be effective alongside Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle.
On a line with Barzal, turnovers are a premium given his style. With Komarov on that line, he made some key plays to help counteract that issue and used his defensive play to create offense.
— NHL (@NHL) May 9, 2021
Komarov ended the season with one goal and seven assists in 33 games played. He has three points in the last five games and is entering the playoffs looking the best he has on that top line.
Energizer Bunny: Oliver Wahlstrom
Usually, the New York Islanders fourth-line is the line tasked with creating energy, but rookie Oliver Wahlstrom added energy and excitement to games when he stepped onto the rink.
Although he cooled off eventually after a solid start to his season, his shot and celebrations are a must-watch. Yes, Barzal creates similar excitement when the puck is on his stick, but with Wahlstrom being in his first year, nobody knew what to expect from him.
When he made a quick, explosive move or roofed one, it was special to see.
For a team that is one of the older ones in the league, Wahlstrom’s is a bright spot for the Islanders’ long-term future. He has been a solid addition to the second power-play unit where he’s scored four goals and helped ignite a little bit of a spark under a special teams group that has been anything but energizing.
Oliver Wahlstrom. Rocket. pic.twitter.com/EaWqUkncAZ
— Rob Taub (@RTaub_) May 11, 2021
Wahlstrom ended the regular season with 12 goals and nine assists in 44 games.