An Islanders Early Season Preview


Islanders 2021: looking to build on last year’s success. Credit: Cory Wright, New York Islanders

Luke Rinaldi, Contributing Writer

Coming off the heels of their conference finals appearance last season, the Islanders’ start to this season has been shaky, to say the least. The team had an incredibly promising first game, notching a 4-0 victory against the rival Rangers with a goal from star Mat Barzal, as well as 2 goals from their captain, Anders Lee and one from veteran, Brock Nelson. Goalkeeper Semyon Varlamov was also in excellent form, notching a 24-save shutout. The Islanders were then promptly blown out in a rematch against the Rangers, losing 5-0 in the NHL debut of highly-anticipated goalie prospect Ilya Sorokin (who made 27-32 saves on the night). However, they quickly bounced back against the Bruins with another shutout from Varlamov, who turned away 27 shots in the 1-0 victory. After a 4-1 victory in their next game against the Devils, they went to 3-1 in their first 4 games, and things were looking up. 

However, after this victory, the Islanders would go on to drop their next 5 straight games, plummeting them to the 7th spot in their division (ahead of only the Rangers). They lost 2-0 in a rematch against the Devils with Sorokin in net, meaning the team had yet to score a goal for their rookie goaltender. The Islanders then traveled to Washington and faced off against the Capitals, where they fell 3-2 in a heartbreaking fashion after giving up a goal with 27 seconds remaining in the third period. Quite embarrassingly, in the second game of the series against the Capitals, the Isles managed to concede 5 unanswered goals in the second period en route to a 6-3 defeat, even with the first NHL goal for blue-chip prospect Oliver Wahlstrom. The Islanders then traveled up I-95 to Philadelphia for two games against the Flyers that unfortunately led to two tough OT losses. In the first game, the Islanders thoroughly outshot the Flyers, but an unfortunate giveaway in overtime resulted in another loss. The second half of this back to back series was another loss in overtime, moving the Isles to 3-4-2 on the season. 

These losses can largely be attributed to a combination of inconsistent, lackluster effort and a constant reshuffling of the lineup in order to establish a consistent 3rd line. Nevertheless, the team will have to turn it around quickly if they want to be able to secure a playoff berth with the NHL’s shortened schedule. A quick turnaround will be especially important considering the strength of this year’s division, which includes long-time strong clubs like the Bruins, the Capitals, the Penguins, and the Flyers. Traditionally, the league plays an 82-game season, but due to COVID, this year has been abbreviated to 56 games, all played against division rivals. As a result, each game becomes more important and there is little room for long losing streaks. This doesn’t mean that it’s time to hit the panic button just yet though, as the team is full of young talent and experienced veterans, as well as one of the league’s best coaches in Barry Trotz. Going forward, the young talents like Mat Barzal, Noah Dobson, Oliver Whalstrom, and Kieffer Bellows will need to realize the extent of their talent and develop more chemistry, something that the team was unable to do in the shortened preseason. Once these players and other veteran mainstays begin to gel with one another and work into Barry Trotz’s system, there should be little doubt that things will turn around for the Islanders, and they will once again be considered a legitimate threat in the NHL and a contender for the Stanley Cup.