Everybody knows the New York Islanders have been a defensive juggernaut since Barry Trotz took the reigns following his cup run with the Capitals. The thing about this Islanders team is they can’t hold a candle to the offensive firepower that Trotz was spoiled with when Washington finally reached the top of the mountain in 2018.
Take their last two games against the rejuvenated Boston Bruins for example. On the first leg of the back to back they managed a mere 23 shots on goal, Boston logged 45, and a 4-1 loss followed. Tonight they got 25 SOG and tightened up in their own end only allowing 28. The thing is, 3 out of 28 went in for the Bs, and nothing went in for the Isles, as rookie goaltender Jeremy Swayman recorded his first career shutout in just his fifth start.
The Islanders have managed to win a lot of games throughout the regular season by playing tight defense and getting solid goaltending from their Russian duo of Varlamov and Sorokin. They have the fewest goals against in the East division with 105 on the season. They say the best offense is a good defense, but that’s simply not true in the case of the Islanders.
With tonight’s loss, they slip under .500 against East division playoff teams, carrying a record of 10-9-2 against Washington, Pittsburgh and Boston. The Bruins, in particular, are an interesting comparison. They play a similar style game and have a similar goal differential for the season. There are two big differences though. Boston has battled key injuries throughout their lineup all year, and they boast two of the best wingers in the league who are scoring at a point per game pace or better in Marchand and Pastrnak. The Isles don’t have a single player scoring at a point per game pace.
Mat Barzal leads the way on the Island with 38 points in 43 games. Their leading goal scorer is Brock Nelson who has 15 goals and 25 points in 43 games. Boston has 3 players with more goals. Pittsburgh has 3 players with more goals. Don’t look now, but the Rangers have 4 players with more goals. Captain Anders Lee had 12 goals through 27 games and would most likely be the team leader, but he won’t be returning this year due to injury. Eberle, Bailey and Pageau have consistently been very regular. Nothing about this team’s offense jumps off the page.
When Barry Trotz finally raised the cup in 2018, his bench boasted the likes of Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov, two top ten centers in the league. His blue line was led by John Carlson, a Norris trophy winner who collected 68 points through an 82 game campaign. He also had that Alex Ovechkin guy. Ya know, the greatest goal scorer of all time. Washington averaged 3.12 goals per game as a team. This time around on the island, a team led by Barzal scoring 2.84 goals per game isn’t going to cut it. It won’t even get them out of their division.
The next month will reveal a lot about teams in the East division. Boston will only get better down the stretch as their IR list shortens and Taylor Hall gets heated up. Evgeni Malkin will return soon for Pittsburgh, who have given the Islanders a run for their money all year. Washington somehow managed to add a player nobody even knew was available in Anthony Mantha, and he joins big scary wingers Tom Wilson and Alex Ovechkin in making the Caps one of the toughest teams in the national. The Islanders are stagnating in the most competitive division in the league. Yes, I am a Ranger fan, and yes, I am incredibly biased. I also can tell good teams from mediocre overachievers. For a while I thought if the Rangers were to make the playoffs they would have to take that fourth and final spot from the Bruins. I’m not convinced that’s the case anymore. I really won’t be surprised if the Islanders struggle down the stretch and finish 5th in the division. There, I said it.
Even if the standings remain roughly the same, this Islanders team will not win a 7 game series against Pittsburgh, Boston, or Washington.