The New York islanders concluded their season Friday night in a Game 6 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. After snagging a road win in Raleigh, the Isles couldn’t find a way to win at home again to avoid elimination. The organization and fanbase alike seem to have a lot of mixed feelings, but the one that affects us all at the moment is disappointment. There is some reflecting to do moving forward, balancing pride in the team with frustration and confusion.
The Islanders found themselves down 2 games early, but the saddest part as an Islander fan is knowing that despite the poor performance in Game 1 there were chances to steal that game, ending only 2-1 in favor of Carolina. Game 2 ended in defeat after some help from the officials and a few tough goals against Ilya Sorokin, but could have also just as easily gone in our favor.
Games 3 and 4 saw UBS Arena host its first ever playoff games, with the former ending in a 5-1 victory for the Isles after scoring four goals in 2:18 to set a league record for fastest four goals in Stanley Cup playoff history. Game 4 was the pinnacle of undisciplined Islander penalties mixed with genuinely atrocious calls, and the continuation of an unsuccessful penalty kill against the Canes speedy power play. Pierre Engvall scored his first playoff goal to start things off in Game 5, followed by Brock Nelson’s mid-air goal off of their Sebastion Aho’s face, and Barzy’s 4v4 goal, the eventual game-winner.
And then there is Game 6. Two periods of solid hockey were plagued by an inability to capitalize on the numerous chances given to us by the scrambling Freddie Andersen in his series debut. Then in third, the Hurricanes came out and dominated the Islanders for the majority of the period. The Isles came out flat and allowed Aho to tie up the game half-way through the frame. Six minutes into OT, veteran forward, Paul Stastny, completed the forecheck with a sharp-angle shot beating Sorokin to end the series. The brief sense of hope for Game 7 was replaced with a state of gloom
A lot went wrong this series, but if the Islanders have one major malfunction to address, it is the special teams.
Typically, the penalty kill isn’t a concern for this group, but the Hurricanes power play was nothing short of overwhelming. In addition to the Isles’ inability to shut it down in the first four games, they spent far too much time on the kill in general. I will say, however, this series and overall playoff season has seen some of the most blatantly horrible officiating I’ve ever seen in the NHL. But it also doesn’t matter if the team can’t stay disciplined outside of the bad calls. At least we beat them up a little!
The Isles saw 18 power plays in this series, converting only once on a Palmieri deflection in Game 3. There is no way to beat a team like Carolina without being able to cash in on those chances. What’s wrong with it? It comes down to lack of confidence and/or talent. The man-advantage didn’t seem to feel like much of an advantage at all, struggling to gain the zone or hold it long enough to generate any significant momentum. The Hurricanes penalty kill was extremely quick on pucks, and the Islanders couldn’t match the speed. They got caught standing still and couldn’t make the creative plays needed to convert when being up a guy
We didn’t see enough output from the top players, failing to truly take advantage of mediocre goaltending consistently throughout the series. Antti Raanta could have been beaten with more pressure and net-front presence, and Freddie Andersen gave the Islanders plenty of chances to bury one throughout Game 6. The series finished 16-15 in goals, in favor of Carolina. A few less penalties and handful of opportunistic goals could have resulted in a much different outcome.
There were too many times in the series when the team wasn’t competing at its highest level. They weren’t given all that much time to gel yet this season, but one would have expected Barzal and Horvat to finish with more than 2 points each. Nelson and Palmieri finished at the top of the roster with 5 points each, but no one was willing to take the game over when they needed it, including the final period of Game 6. I watch players like Matthew Tkachuk and Brandon Montour take control of a series out of sheer will and wonder where that effort is for our leaders. There is a lot of talent on this team that is not coming through.
At the end of the day, we can’t let the disappointment of this series let us lose scope of any progress. The Islanders played a great team and were fortunate enough to even make the playoffs this season. This series was a lot closer than it could have been. They faced a lot of injury struggles throughout the year, but still managed to battle their way into a wildcard spot. It feels disappointing with Round 1 being so winnable, but this season overall sort of felt like a slow regroup toward the Islanders hockey we’ve seen in the past. We’ll have to wait and see what this offseason brings.
With the roster becoming a bit crowded, tough decision are going to be made moving forward. Bo and Barzal signed their big tickets for the next 8 seasons. The 2022-23 season saw the staggered additions of Alexander Romanov, Hudson Fasching, Bo Horvat, and Pierre Engvall to the lineup, as well as younger guys like Holmstrom, Bolduc, and Wotherspoon throughout the season. Lane Lambert took the helm for his debut season as Head Coach, as well.
It is difficult to assess Lambert’s influence on the team, in my opinion. It was his first run at it, and the team was coming off an incredibly disappointing season, ending in a battle against the perennial Metro Division winners. Maybe he figures it out with time. One concern I would have, though, is if he has any role to play in this team’s tendency to come out flat or shut down in important games. We’ve seen these players look elite before, so why does that not show up on the ice as often? Who do we need to get the most out of this group? Are the players tired of Lou’s management style, even?
Some decisions, like firing Barry Trotz and handing out large contracts, have left Lou Lamoriello open to significant criticism. However, he did sign players to try and make this roster playoff ready. Bo Horvat was precisely the player we had been looking for and Lou delivered, regardless of the cost. Bo did not perform as expected to finish this season, but not many players did. He had limited time playing with Barzal before the injury, and they did look great in those initial stages. I am holding out judgement until we see Horvat through a training camp and full season, at least, and counting on Barzal to live up to his contract, as well. I have no doubts they will figure it out, but the Islanders could certainly use some more help with scoring.
We still don’t know what next year’s roster will look like. With all of the UFAs and RFAs, there is likely to be some sad goodbyes. This may be the chance to retool this lineup with the best of who they have and try to shed some other contracts. I personally would love to see the return of UFAs Parise, Fasching, and Engvall. Pierre Engvall has had an impressive start with the Islanders, and could be a valuable forward for the right price. Parise and Fasching play well together and keep up the pace compared to someone like Bailey. I’m still kind of shocked Bailey didn’t get thrown in the lineup at least once in the playoffs, though. Oliver Wahlstrom (RFA) spent almost the entire season on the IR, and if he comes back strong he can help supplement the offense. He’s struggled with inconsistency in the past, however, and could be a potential trade piece.
Regardless of the lineup, I am excited for next season already. The feelings of defeat are still pretty fresh, yet this season was a step forward, however small. There is a chance to make edits to this team that will keep the Islanders competitive going forward. What happens next is still unclear, but I like to believe this team isn’t going away again. Enjoy the rest of playoffs, and go Devils!