Long story short: It’s not great. The first two displays of Islanders hockey looked eerily similar to much of our last season. Of course, that is to be expected considering close to half of our roster were AHL players but that could be said for any preseason lineup. There isn’t much in terms of excuses, but it is certainly comforting to know that we have seen where our weaknesses are and have a chance to address them before the season begins. Fingers crossed that will transpire in the coming weeks.
The Islanders fell to the Rangers 4-1 on Monday night’s preseason opener. This game was a great example of our inability to keep up with talented teams, and as a team fully capable of displaying their own talent, it is all the more frustrating to watch them roll over when the speed picks up. At the start, it looked like we showed up to play and may have even had a chance of winning, but after the first Rangers goal, the Islanders were fairly flat. Robin Salo’s 2nd period goal from the point, however, is at least another sign that he may be ready to take the step up to the NHL along with his team-leading 5 shots on goal. I have always believed he will be one of our best prospects, offering a scoring touch from the blue line. Simon Holmström also made his name know amongst the rookies, coming off of a great season in Bridgeport. He will be a top contender for any spots available to the youngsters. But all in all, the Islanders did not show up and it remains clear that the Rangers have reclaimed the crown of New York hockey.
Tuesday nights game in New Jersey did not offer a whole lot more for optimism, adding another 4-1 loss to the report. New Jersey’s goaltending put up an impressive display, and the forwards were able to bury their opportunities on us. The Devils looked sloppy in their defensive zone, but the Islanders just couldn’t get more shots past Vanecek or Schmid. The one shot that did tickle the twine came from Nikita Soshnikov, and what a snipe it was. Soshnikov scored top right from the left wing after William Dufour’s pass from deep in our zone to the Devils’ blue line. It appeared we were going to control this game, but we just could not keep the puck out of our net. It does beg the question whether or not we can afford to loosen up on defense for offensive prowess, but I would maintain that it is far too early to tell and that is essentially the only outlook one can take from preseason games.
It is worrying to Isles fans that we are still playing so slow and flat, and that it is our prospects doing so, too, now but despite the abysmal team play there were some guys that stood out. Lou may not believe he is ready, but Aatu Räty looked among the feistier prospects in the lineup, going 6 for 15 in faceoffs and getting significant power play time. It is obvious that he had been playing at a high level in Finland, moving with much more urgency and intention than some of the other young players. Lane Lambert praised him, as well, stating that he liked his game and how he took advantage of his size and speed. It may have even been his play that allowed Palmieri to look so good again! Räty’s hockey IQ is undeniable, and I would be happy to see him given more opportunities throughout the regular season.
William Dufour stood out, as well, for his ability to read the play and dictate the speed of the game. He was defensively responsible, playing with Martin and Cizikas when he wasn’t on the power play. He showed an eagerness to battle and keep the puck out of the Devils’ possession. Martin praised him after the game, claiming that “physically, he can hang with the guys, and then he’s got a great shot, can make plays.” For his first NHL showing, Dufour made it clear that he will not disappear from the attention of the Islanders coaching staff, but he needs to keep proving that he can compete at the NHL level. We can certainly take advantage of a big body that can score, and Isles fans will eagerly await his return to the lineup.
Oliver Wahlstrom was another player that looked to be improving, which is a significant factor in how this offense will play out over the season. He found more ways to get himself in better position and played much harder than we might be used to seeing. His play reflects an intentional effort to live up to his own hype over the off-season. If Wally can dial it in and allow himself for time to rip that epic shot of his, he can become an elite force for the Islanders.
Other than the small bright spots in a handful of guys’ play, these preseason games were a reminder of what disasters this team is capable of when we don’t show up to battle. Will we find more ways to score, and more players to do it? Will we maintain the Trotz defensive competence? I am certainly not in the same company as many pessimistic fans and believe the regular season will play out much more smoothly than these displays, but we are all holding our breath to see if we can get it together in time.
The Islanders will return to UBS Arena to face off against Tortorella’s Flyers on Sunday, October 2nd @ 7pm. Now THAT is a team we would love to beat.