Islanders One-Timers: Back in the playoff hunt, thoughts after 20 games

The New York Islanders capped their 20th game of the season with their 12th win, a comeback win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. Last season, it took the Islanders until Jan. 1, their 28th game, to reach that mark. But the past is the past, and right now New York sits third in the Metropolitan Division, tied with the Carolina Hurricanes (2nd in Metro) with 24 points.

Let’s dive into our 20 thoughts after 20 games.

Lambert doesn’t flinch

It may be his first year as NHL head coach, but Lane Lambert knows what he’s doing. Aside from some questionable decisions, Lambert has shown a willingness to change things when they don’t work, particularly in third periods where the Islanders have been successful. He’s benched players who have been struggling, even players who have been starters in the team for years. He has allowed young players to play their game and learn through play instead of watching. He’s maintained a goalkeeping rhythm, giving Ilya Sorokin three starts out of four. He has played more aggressive hockey as the Islanders’ offense averaged 3.33 goals per game despite a lack of superstar talent. The same group scored just 2.79 goals per game a season ago.

Slow Stars, the Achilles heel

The New York Islanders’ biggest problem was the slow start of the games, some of which were painfully slow. While goal difference hasn’t been bad in the first 20, 12-10 in favor of the opposition, the Islanders have conceded the first goal in 12 of their first 20 games and have fallen behind six times after one game. The Islanders were better at the start but there wasn’t enough juice early on which put them in difficult situations.

Resilience, the name of the game

As previously mentioned, the slow starts have gotten the New York Islanders in sticky spots, but the comeback kids often come back. The Islanders are down 10 times after two periods and have found a way to win four times. They made up a two-goal deficit three times in the third period. They have a never-ending attitude, even if the first half of games showed little sign that a comeback was even possible. They have surpassed their opponents 39-19 in third periods.

Lambert is not yet satisfied with Forward Lines

Lane Lambert changed his lines 15 times (per money puck, at least 10 minutes). Lambert is close to the lines he wants, but Josh Bailey and Anthony Beauvillier’s struggles require adjustments. He trusts the 3P line and likes Anders Lee with Mathew Barzal and Oliver Wahlstrom. Not enough consistency to keep the lines the same.

Defensive pairings don’t click

The New York Islanders are struggling to play strong defensively. They ranked 11th in the NHL, conceding 2.75 goals per game. They were too loose in their own zone due to Lambert’s aggressive style. Players lose their man easily and odd rushes happen too often. Another problem was sloppy passing, which has eliminated their ability to break out and establish their game.

Sorokin at the top of his game

This season was Ilya Sorokin’s first as a true no. 1 NHL netminder and he was phenomenal. He sits behind a shaky defense with a 2.37 GAA and .926 SV% in 14 games. He has 8.69 goals on average (fifth best) and has saved 114 of 135 dangerous shots. The biggest difference from a season ago is that he doesn’t allow those weak goals and has a starting percentage of 76.9, the best of his young career.

Varlamov’s turn

After a difficult 2021-22 season, Semyon Varlamov has shown that the last year has been a stroke of luck for him. He’s been a stable presence behind Sorokin with 2.97 GAA and 0.914 SV% but looks confident in goal and has saved the Islanders many times. This is his first season as No. 2. But the extra break, one start every three games, has served him well.

Barzal was the leader of the offensive

It may have taken Mathew Barzal 19 games before he scored his first goal of the season. The scoreless finish put Barzal above a points-a-game player with 19 assists in 18 games. With his two goals and one assist on Monday, he has 22 points in 20 games. He uses his skate and playmaking skills to create chances for his teammates who have more goals to complete. He’s on pace for 90 points.

Nelson picks up where he left off

Brock Nelson scored 37 goals a season ago and currently leads New York with nine goals. He has 11 assists as he also has 20 points in 20 games. After a slow start with no goals in seven games (six assists), he has nine in his last 13 games. It shows that the offensive last year was consistent and not just “mixed” like in previous years.

Lee looks perfectly healthy

Anders Lee had just sustained a cruciate ligament injury last season and although he scored 28 goals, he needed time to settle down. He’s been a lot more involved this season, winning board fights and fights up front to get rebounds. His play up front was an integral part of the power play when they score. He has eight goals and ten assists.

Wahlstrom Not there yet, but on the way there

Oliver Wahlstrom is struggling to find his game but has shown a little more understanding of how to play in this system, especially with Barzal. He’s been winning fights and spotting pucks in the last few games. He also put more effort into getting into the slot. He was a team player, dropped the gloves twice and earned respect in the dressing room. Everyone said he’s worked extremely hard this summer, but we’re still waiting to see him snipe with Barzal.

Fourth line jumps back

The fourth line appears rejuvenated. Matt Martin looked like a different player than he did a year ago. Casey Cizikas is the energizer bunny again, while Cal Clutterbuck has been the consistent player keeping the line going. They didn’t launch many games like they used to, but mostly they played to their identities.

Discipline still an issue for Cizikas

In 2021-22, Casey Cizikas led the Islanders with 48 PIM in 74 games. So far, 2022-23, he has 23 PIM, on pace for 94.3. A key penalty killer for the Islanders, he needs to stay out of the box as much as possible, especially given the strength of his line.

Romanov a blocking machine

When Alexander Romanov was taken on, it was believed that he would be a hit machine. While laying the body 47 times in 20 games, he was a blocking machine and ate a total of 48 shots. Although the penalty hasn’t been particularly good in eight games without a goal allowed, Romanov’s blocking ability was key to their success.

Sebastian Ah surprise

Despite not winning the last defensive spot from training camp, Sebastian Aho has been a fixture alongside Scott Mayfield for 16 games. He plays more calmly in his own zone, using his skating ability to escape danger. He even got involved in the transition phase and made some smart plays for chances and assists. He was a surprise but in a good way for this Islanders team as Robin Salo wasn’t consistent enough.

performance in overtime

The Islanders won just three of 13 overtime games a season ago but are 3-0-0 this season. The biggest difference was the communication and faceoff wins, as Pageau was tasked with that OT opening draw and mostly won it. And the islanders didn’t take much time to score the goals. Zach Parise, Noah Dobson and Anthony Beauvillier have this season’s winners.

avoid injuries

Knock on wood, but the Islanders have had a few minor injuries this season as staying healthy has been an issue in recent years. The Islanders had a scare in Monday’s win, but all three injured players (Nelson, Palmieri, Parise) returned and ended the game. The Islanders don’t have too much NHL-eligible depth to fight injuries. Aside from missing a game due to sore muscles, Clutterbuck has it on the injury front.

The UBS Advantage

Home field advantage wasn’t an advantage in their first season at UBS Arena, but so far the New York Islanders have performed reasonably well in front of their fans. They are 6-3-0 and have beaten their opponents 30-22. They’ve averaged 3.33 goals per game at UBS, which allows for 2.44. And players have said that the crowd gave them extra energy.

On road

The New York Islanders have weathered their first two road trips of the season. Their record on the road is 6-5-0 after starting 0-2 after a weekend in Florida. They have beaten their opponents by 36 points to 33, with their most recent win being a 3-2 overtime win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. Whenever you can go .500 or better, take it.

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