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One peak at the current record of 2-4 and one might believe the Islanders are returning to their 2021-22 selves, but despite the fact this is our worst record after 6 games in several years, it may not be time to panic quite yet.
The Isles would have loved to snag a few points from either of the games against the Panthers, and certainly in the matchup against the Devils, but they could not get the bounces needed to avoid dropping back to last place in the eastern conference, with only 4 points so far. The only loss, however, that they truly looked like a terrible hockey team was against New Jersey (1-4 L). Even then, they had their moments. NJ used their speed to take advantage of any holes in our defensive structure, peppering Sorokin with 42 shots on goal. We looked slow and uninterested for most of the game and struggled to break McKenzie Blackwood’s shutout until the final 4 minutes of the game, thanks to Anders Lee’s classic net-front grinding.
This team does look different than they did under Barry Trotz, and although the results aren’t there yet, it shouldn’t be viewed too negatively. A strange number of goals against have been weird bounces and deflections, causing us to play from behind constantly. They are still playing at a higher pace with much more intention to get pucks on net, so why do we struggle to bury our opportunities? That is a difficult question to answer, and you have to wonder if there is some level of mental pressure the guys are allowing to interfere with their production. We know offense has been the biggest weakness and we’re relying on the same guys to step it up since we haven’t made any massive offseason moves to fix it. This is when I watch out for guys switching what color tape they use.
It also may not help that the lines have been mixed up consistently, as is part of transitioning coaches. I am personally ok with letting the guys figure out the best pairings, but we mustn’t lie to ourselves and let certain players have too much time with Barzal. We need to get Barzy in positions to score. He is shooting more often still and has helped Anders Lee pick up a handful of his goals (of which he has a team leading 4). Barzy still hasn’t scored, however, and neither has Brock Nelson – two of our top forwards (both currently with 6 pts, all assists). It never looks good when several of our defensemen have more goals then two of or top forwards, but again, this may just be part of the process right now.
We see Coach Lambert playing with the roster enough that he even scratched Josh Bailey against Tampa Bay. That is a move I have waited to see for years. He is far too soft on the puck and only valuable every 700 chances he has but considering he will soon play his 1,000th game in the show, and as an Islander, I will spare him further criticism. He has been a part of many big moments as an Islander and that should not go unnoticed. His ceremony will be an exciting one for sure when the time comes.
Coach Lambert also sat Beauvillier against the Panthers this Sunday, but he may have been slightly injured at the time and given a break as he had scored a goal the night prior in Tampa.
Keys to the Game
The Islanders take on the Rangers on Wednesday, the 26th, at UBS Arena. Home ice hasn’t necessarily been an advantage for us yet, and it matters even less against our in-state rivals as the crowd will likely consist of large showings from both fandoms.
What will it take to steal 2 points from a solid Rangers team?
Power Play Success:
We have struggled MIGHTILY on the power play, basically for as long as I can remember… but we will need to figure it out if we want to outscore this opposing offense. We started the season off nice with a PPG on opening night against FLA, but went 0-15 on power plays between that goal and the two we scored on Sunday, also against the Panthers (thank you once again, Lee!). The boys have sometimes looked more willing to make the risky plays one might with the advantage to get opportunities, but other times they remain stationary and wait for the perfect options. We need to create the chaos that allows a team with an extra player to get scoring chances – guys in front, shots on net, winning battles, one-timers, etc. We need a bucket of smelling salts ready to go for the power plays because the static, safe plays aren’t working. Hopefully, we can build off the last game’s success.
The PK has been one of our bright spots, even when we are not winning games. We have a great roster for it, with guys like Pageau, Parise, Cizikas, and Clutterbuck to eat shots and bang bodies. Our PK is tied for first with the Blues and the Red Wings at 100% thus far. Going up against the Rangers will be a true test, as they have a top-10 PP with 6 goals on it already this season (26% success). Shutting down Panarin, Zibanejad, and Kreider are key to winning this game.
Defensive Structure and Physicality:
We will have to stay responsible for suffocating the Ranger offense. The chances we have been giving up lately will be taken advantage of against a team with such star power up front. Romanov’s physicality has been a major feature of his game, even earning a fine for a hit on the Rangers in the preseason – talk about earning the fans’ love! Games like this are usually where we get to see the ‘Identity’ line doing their thing on the forecheck, blocking shots, and creating opportunities. With few players outside of Reaves to bring the pain for the Rangers, I think the Isles have a chance to bully them and prove they have a horse in the race for metro playoff spots.
Lastly, the Islanders need to figure out how to revitalize this offense by beating goalies when we should be doing so. Too many times in the first 6 games have we watched them get chance after chance only to miss the net or bury it in the goalie’s chest. Igor Shesterkin’s numbers aren’t as stellar so far as they were last year, but he will still be a major factor in the game if he plays. Otherwise, we will look to rack up the score against a former Islander in Jaroslav Halak. Both Ranger goalies have a lower save percentage than Sorokin (.908) and Varlamov (.917) as it stands. The Rangers are notorious for being defensive frauds, bailed out by stellar goaltending at least since the mid-2000s with Lundqvist at the helm.
It will take a major effort to earn these two points and some respect in the state of New York, but I don’t believe the Islanders are incapable of doing so. We have struggled thus far, but it is not too late to get the ship on course again.