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Islanders Taking Action After NHL Pauses to Reflect on Social Issues

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New York Islanders Matt Martin and Scott Mayfield

A day after NHL players banded together to postpone NHL playoff games for two days to protest social inequality, the New York Islanders are turning their calls for change into action.

All four Eastern Conference teams left battling in the playoffs were made available to the media on Friday, with the conversation focusing less on topics on the ice and more on how the players want to use their platforms for change away from the rink.

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New York Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield said he is already working on ways to be more involved.

“We need to use (our platform) in a positive way. I’ve seen plenty of people use their platform in a negative way and that just needs to end,” Mayfield said. “For me, it’s about action. I’ve already reached out to our community relations director just about setting up things outside the rink. What we can do to start brainstorm ideas. Go into minority communities, stuff like that.”

In the 24 hours since the NHL joined the WNBA, NBA, teams in MLB and MLS, the players have spent the time reflecting on everything that has occurred in recent weeks and months, including the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin on Sunday. The shooting renewed calls from various athletes and pro sports leagues for an end to racial injustice and police brutality.

“It’s really tough times right now,” Matt Martin said. “We just want everybody to feel included, everybody to feel safe. No matter the color of your skin, or sexual orientation, at the end of the day, we just want all forms of hate to be gone, for people to love each other and do what’s right.”

The Milwaukee Bucks became the first pro team to boycott playing on Wednesday, triggering the NBA to make the call to postpone play. The WNBA followers suit in solidarity with their NBA counterparts.

“As soon as we kind of got word that some guys on the other side of the bubble not feeling comfortable playing we obviously wanted to stand behind our minority (players),” Martin said. “Stand behind the guys that are going through a tough time right now and didn’t feel comfortable going out there. … We’re trying to do what’s right and I think everyone in this bubble is for equality.

“We just want everyone to feel welcomed, not only in the game of hockey, but in life.”

NHL players have taken a notably louder stance on social issues in recent months. In the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, several high profile players in the NHL voiced their support for the need for social change.

It has also forced the game to look inward and reassess how inclusive hockey is.

“Just hearing stories of young players that don’t feel safe, don’t feel included that’s something just needs to stop,” Mayfield said. “That just makes me sick because hockey is a place for everyone. It’s a place everyone should feel safe. Everyone should enjoy the game, love the game and love going to the rink.

“That’s another focus. We need to make the game a place that everyone is included.”

Isles-Flyers Game 3 Moved to Saturday

The Islanders and Flyers will pick up with their series on Saturday for Game 3, which was scheduled to take place on Thursday. Originally Game 4 was to take place Saturday afternoon, but with the postponement of Thursday and Friday’s games the NHL needed to readjust its schedule.

It’s unclear if the New York Islanders have anything planned ahead of Game 3 to bring awareness to racial and social injustice, but the team is well aware that this is bigger than a few days of not playing hockey.

“I think we all know us sitting out two days is not going to end racism,” Mayfield said. “What it does do is it brings dialogue. It brings awareness and it enables us to look in the mirror. Talk to each other and that’s what it’s started. It’s all about action now. It’s all about making sure we actually do things to combat issues in our game and in society.”

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New York Islanders

GREENE TEAM: Veteran Defenseman Andy Greene Prepares to Face Former ‘Mates

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Andy Greene

COVID-19 altered or canceled many things over the course of the roughly 10 months that the United States and the rest of the world have dealt with the virus. Among those milestones or events that had to be put off was the chance for Andy Greene to play against his former team, the New Jersey Devils.

Greene was acquired by the New York Islanders in mid-February and would have faced his former team in mid-March had it not been for the league postponing the season on March 12. The veteran defenseman will finally get that chance on Thursday when the Isles play New Jersey in the first of two matchups over the next four days.

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The Islanders will host New Jersey at Nassau Coliseum on Thursday night and then travel to the Prudential Center on Sunday.

“Obviously first time doing this and you know it’s going to be strange,” Greene said after the Islanders practiced on Long Island Wednesday. “it will be weird, but once we get out there I’m sure strange seeing a couple of those guys that I still have a really good relationship with. I don’t know (how it will be).

“I know it’s kind of weird. Once the puck drops and we get through the first shift there it will be hockey as usual, but for sure it will be my first time going through it.”

The 15-year NHL defenseman had been a lifelong Devil before he was traded last season to boost the Islanders’ depth at the blue line. Adam Pelech had been lost for the season following a freak injury in January and while Noah Dobson had been performing admirably in his place, the Isles needed some help.

Andy Greene only played three regular-season games in New York before COVID-19 shut down the season. The vet was able to establish his role during the postseason, where he became a vital piece in the Islanders’ run to the conference finals.

While Greene and his family have adjusted going from Devils to Islanders since the February trade, there are still little adjustments that they’re getting used to.

For instance, on Monday with the Islanders playing a matinee Greene’s two young sons were able to watch the home opener against the Boston Bruins. The Greenes watched the game from home, like the rest of the fans, and Greene’s 3-year-old son got all excited when the MSG+ broadcast showed Sparky, the Islanders mascot.

However, it did raise one pressing question for the youngest member of the Greene family.

“He was like, ‘where is NJ Devil,'” Greene said. “We were like, ‘well bud he’s not there, We’re not there anymore he’s not going to be there, but maybe on Sunday you’ll be able to see him on TV there.'”

And while Greene’s family adjusts to the change in mascots, Greene will have to find a way to play through facing guys that he came up with in the  NHL. Travis Zajac and Greene played for New Jersey together for nearly their entire careers.

Andy Greene and Zajac both made their NHL debuts during the 2006-07 and the two developed a close friendship.

“That will be obviously the more weird ones to play against,” Greene said. “Obviously knowing him, just the relationship we have together and everything we’ve been through together as teammates and friends. It will be fun. It will be good. Obviously, it will be a great challenge.”

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Oliver Wahlstrom could give New York Islanders scoring jolt

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Oliver Wahlstrom

Since the New York Islanders three-goal barrage in the first period against the New York Rangers on opening night, the team has amassed just two goals over the ensuing eight periods.

Yes, it’s a small sample size and still early in the season, but in an abbreviated campaign, each game’s importance is magnified.

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Through three games, the Islanders rank 28th in the league in Corsi For percentage (42.45, per Natural Stat Trick), and just haven’t generated a ton of sustained offensive zone time outside of a brilliant start a Madison Square Garden. Hockey Reference has the Islanders at 0.7 expected goals for per game, which is tied for last with the New Jersey Devils.

It’s not time to sound the alarm bells, but it’s also not ideal to hit the snooze button and let the problem linger.

Up and down the lineup the Islanders can get more contributions from everyone. But a little tweak on the third line might go a long way. Adding 20-year-old Oliver Wahlstrom might just give the team a little spark.

With the departure of Derrick Brassard, the Islanders have so far relied on a third line of Kieffer Bellows, Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Ross Johnston. That line has seen the fewest ice time of any of the offensive units, although Pageau has played in a bit of a hybrid role and has skated with other teammates and has received special teams time.

Semyon Varlamov Dominant in Shutout Win Over Boston Bruins

Right now that third line is acting more like a fourth, and not giving the Islanders much — if any — scoring depth. Bellows and Johnston have each have recorded just one shot on goal through three games. Even in limited playing time, that’s just not enough to make any tangible difference.

Sure, one could argue that this group is out there to create a forecheck and maybe give the Islanders an extra physical presence. But the fourth line already fulfills that role, and with Matt Martin already in the lineup, Barry Trotz and the Islanders are double-dipping a bit by keeping Johnston out there.

Oliver Wahlstrom has only nine games of NHL experience under his belt from last year, but did produce 22 points over 45 AHL games with Bridgeport last year. As a 19-year-old with the big club last season, he did produce a 46 percent CF percentage in those nine games, which isn’t at all terrible for a first cup of coffee as a teenager at hockey’s highest level.

On loan in Sweden this winter, Wahlstrom produced four goals and four assists over 10 games and flashed the offensive zone ability he was lauded for when the Islanders used a first-round pick on him in 2018. Wahlstrom has a high ceiling and plenty of skill with the puck, which could give the team an added element it is right now lacking.

When Michael Dal Colle officially returns from injured reserve, he’ll likely get a shot to skate on Pageau’s wing on the third line. Trotz said on Tuesday that Dal Colle was “real close” to coming off IR.

With 17 points in 85 games, Dal Colle probably won’t move the scoring needle a ton for the Islanders.

It might not be a huge difference-maker right now, but giving Oliver Wahlstrom a chance to come off the taxi squad and into the lineup could give the Islanders a little bit of an offensive spark and take the pressure off some of the top-six forwards.

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Semyon Varlamov Dominant in Shutout Win Over Boston Bruins

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Semyon Varlamov

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Semyon Varlamov didn’t miss a beat on Monday.

Despite missing his scheduled start on Saturday due to a freak injury during warmups, the veteran goaltender was on the ice and in command of his net in the New York Islanders 1-0 win over the Boston Bruins. Varlamov made 27 saves as he became the first goalie in franchise history to record shutouts in their first two games of the season.

“I can tell that’s the best result I’ve ever had after two games,” Varlamov said. I’ve never had back to back shutouts at the beginning of the season. I mean I’ve had some seasons where I’ve felt great, but still, the outcome is different. I’m glad it happened this way and I’m pretty happy about the result.”

Semyon Varlamov was dominant in his second outing of the year on Monday. The Islanders’ netminder withstood what felt like a barrage of shots Boston threw at him over the course of the 60-minute contest.

Varlamov is only the 14th goaltender in NHL history to start the season with shutouts in his first two starts.

It was up in the air if Varlamov would even be able to start on Monday. He was injured by a shot during warmups on Saturday night and was forced to miss the game.

“I got hit in the face during warmups,” Varlamov said. “It happens you know. I felt a little dizzy. It happens. I felt fine the next morning. I skated yesterday, felt pretty good after practice. Barry decided to put me in the net. I felt pretty good today.”

The Russian goalie held Boston at bay early in the game. Boston tilted the ice in their favor through the first 20 minutes of the game, pressuring the Islanders and outshooting them 11-3.

The Islanders managed to right the ship as the game went on, it was the early effort from Varlamov that helped the Islanders turn the tide.

“I thought early he was a big reason we got a win tonight,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “He made some really good saves against a very good hockey team. He just calmed our game, gave us a chance. In the second period, we got our feet moving and started to play more to our identity.”

The shutout win certainly had plenty of people excited, Varlamov tried to keep the situation within perspective after the game

“I’ll take back-to-back shutouts, I’m not going to lie,” Varlamov said. “I’m pretty happy today. But this is just the beginning of the year, a lot of games coming. We played well today and I’m glad we scored the important goal in the end.”

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