The New York Islanders underperformed last season. There is no doubt about that. After two trips to the Eastern Conference Finals in the years prior, we expected them to remain Cup-contenders, or at the very least to stay competitive.
Sure, they had the 13-game road trip to start the season, as well as a pretty significant bout with COVID-19 and its protocols, but no one watching that team last season saw the Islanders they knew from the entire Barry Trotz era. They didn’t seem to have the same grit, speed, or confidence. What we can take away, in terms of positives, was the final push in the last two or three months of the season. We finally began to see the Islanders put together some wins and even force themselves briefly into a playoff push (very briefly). We were also lucky enough to see a breakout season from Noah Dobson (third in scoring with 13 G and 38 A in 80 GP) and fantastic display of offense from Brock Nelson (37 G in 72 GP). Additionally, we were able to break-in the new UBS Arena as a fanbase, and although we might miss the character and history of the Coliseum, the spirit lives on in this brand-new home.
The Islanders will be watched carefully this season to determine the true character of this group. Will they respond to a tough year, or continue their retreat into the shadows, where they spent the better part of the last three decades? Let’s take a look at this team once more before the season begins.
Losses: Zdeno Chara (D), Andy Greene (D), Barry Trotz
Gains: Alexander Romanov (D)
Centers: Barzal – Nelson – Pageau – Cizikas
Top Defensemen: Pelech – Pulock – Dobson – Romanov
Goalies: Ilya Sorokin, Semyon Varlamov
Weakest Links: Josh Bailey (F), Anthony Beauvillier (F)
Sneaky Good: Zach Parise (F), Robin Salo (D), Kieffer Bellows (F)….and Josh Bailey
One thing we do not have to worry much about is the goaltending. Varlamov struggled out of the gate last year but found his groove over time. Either way, we will likely keep Sorokin as the starter, and rightfully so. Sorokin finished last season with a .925 save percentage and 2.40 GAA in 52 games. Not to mention his sneaky Vezina nomination. The White Whale is cunning, and he may be our best asset in competing in arguably the best division in the NHL.
We have yet to become familiar with who exactly will be in the starting lineup, specifically in reference to young forwards, such as Kieffer Bellows and Oliver Wahlstrom, as well as the young d-men Robin Salo and Sebastion Aho. These are the highest-ranking of our prospect pool that have played with the Isles so far, but guys like Will Dufour and Aatu Raty have showcased their talent yet again, in this year’s WJC, with Dufour earning gold and a Memorial Cup to boot. Will it be enough to earn them a chance in the upcoming season? I personally am hoping so, and Coach Lambert is far more likely to give the youngsters some ice time than his predecessor, as was proven in his short-lived takeover as head coach where we saw an increase in ice time for both Bellows and Wahlstrom over a four-game period.
We are left to wonder, in general, if the team will fix what it is that brought them down last year (at least what is in their control). There is some concern about the lack of signings this off-season to address the offensive drought (as well as the abysmal power play). Although we tried our hand at some of the big names in free agency, like Gaudreau and Kadri, we are left with a seemingly identical offense. Will Lambert get more out of these guys? We need to see improvements in scoring from Beauvillier, Palmieri, and Barzal. I would love to see Barzy on the wing. Some of his nicest goals were coming 1-on-1 down the boards or working from the half-wall in the opposing team’s zone. I believe we could take advantage of his speed if we can find someone to play center for him, but that is far easier aid than done. It is famously more difficult to adjust to center from the wing than vice versa. Alas, he will likely remain in the middle, but we know he is capable of scoring more than he has. He has proven it before and we’ll just have to hope he can do it again, along with Nelson and Lee.
Anders Lee has proven to be one of our most consistent players, who tallied 46 points after coming off an ACL-tear in late 2021. There is no one on this team more suited for captaincy, and you have to believe he is still hungry to return to the playoffs. How else can he feed those legs?! I am curious to see how the lines are divvied up this season, but I imagine Lee ad Barzal will certainly stay on the first.
At the end of the day, there is truly no knowing how this team will perform. A lot of people are staying hopeful for them, as they have proven before how good they can be. Then there are others who fall into the mindset, after years of being the case, that the Islanders are a trash team through and through and will return to staying outside of playoff contention. Some even whisper of a rebuild! I will say, that this team does not need a rebuild. I have always felt that what this team needs is to get the most out of the lineup that they can, and that became true under Trotz. Do you have faith they can rekindle the flame? I certainly do…but we Isles fans have learned not to believe it until we see it.
Takeaways: With a similar team, the Islanders need to beef up their ability to score goals, especially on the power play, whilst maintaining the defensive discipline that granted them success in the past. There is a lot of trust in Lane Lambert to pick up where Barry Trotz left off.