Talk about a whirl-wind both on and off the ice for the New York Islanders season. Both this season and last. Between an arena to play their games, an all-league player choosing to leave for his hometown team, and the addition of a Stanley Cup-winning coach and General Manager, the organization looked to have rebounded and set themselves up for a promising next half-decade.
One year into the experiment and there were rave reviews. This Islanders team came into the season with high hopes and a fan base energized from a second-round exit just months before. A team that started out so hot that when they lost five games in December, it matched their total from the first two months of the season. What went wrong for the New York Islanders season? Why, if the season ended today, would they be watching instead of competing in the postseason?
Looking at the New York Islanders Season
Not sure you’ll find much argument from those that follow the NHL on a daily basis; the 2019-2020 Metropolitan division is one of the deepest divisions in recent memory. They have two constants over the past decade in the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins, the scorching hot Philadelphia Flyers and four other legitimate playoff teams for only two spots.
Each one of these four teams has endured a fair amount of turbulence this season, but before the hiatus were separated by just two points. Imagine that, a division after 70 games having seven out of eight teams within one game of the playoffs. It’s wild, and when you talk about each team’s story throughout the season it gets even crazier. But we aren’t going to talk about all 4 teams, we are going to focus on one. Here are three reasons the New York Islanders season would end sitting at home for the postseason if this was any other year.
The Power Play
When talking about the power play, it’s not just the execution, but the lack of opportunities with the man advantage that has hurt the Islanders. The Isles rank last in the league in chances and it really isn’t close. The Anaheim Ducks are the next closest with 16 more power plays! The quick reaction is that the Islanders need more players who can win one on one battles and force the other team into taking penalties. Maybe that is the case, but that doesn’t explain the lack of execution when they are on the man advantage (17.3%). When you aren’t getting that many chances and are also in the bottom half of the league in execution that makes for a bad combination.
One thing the Isles will need to improve this upcoming offseason, whenever that happens, is a quarterback for the first unit. Between the three defensemen who see the most time on the man advantage (Ryan Pulock, Devon Toews, Nick Leddy) Pulock leads with just eight points. He has five assists, which just isn’t enough. If the Isles improve their power play whenever the season starts up again, look for production from the defenseman on these units. That needs to be a big factor to inspire change.
A Primary Goal Scorer
Remember 91, the guy with the C on the front of his jersey. In his nine seasons with the Isles, he scored 30 goals four times. Not included in that was a 29-goal year, a 28-goal year, and in the lockout-shortened season 28 goals in 48 games. He was the model of consistency for the franchise. As well as a guy you could count on to score goals. Since his departure, granted it’s just the second year, no Islander has scored 30. Tavares, on the other hand, scored a career-high 47 last season. He was also on pace for 30 plus this year before the hiatus. To be fair, Brock Nelson is also on his way to the 30 goal mark this season and will be the first Islander since Tavares to do it.
If we think about the Metro, the Isles (192) have scored the third-fewest goals. Only the Columbus Blue Jackets (180) and New Jersey Devils (189) have scored less. The rumours of a Zach Parise deal at the deadline seem to fit this narrative. The main reason for that was this Isles team has no number one option and that problem has been around since the departure of their former captain. Although this issue was not fixed at the trade deadline, the fact that Lou was sniffing around seems to point in the direction of a goal scorer being added to this roster during the offseason.
If you’re a fan of baseball, you have heard the expression ‘Dog days of summer’. In hockey, the month of February is the equivalent. The first few weeks leading up to the deadline are important for some teams who are declaring whether or not they are going to make a run at the playoffs. For the Islanders that wasn’t a question. The question was what will the Islanders do at that deadline. Moves were made, the Isles had tread water, but that wasn’t the focus of February. The focus was on how deep this division is. As well as that when a team treads water for a month it opens the door for everyone else.
Ten of the Islanders 15 games in February were against postseason teams. Another was against the team who had the second-best record that month in the New York Rangers. Record wise for the Islanders it wasn’t their worst month. They finished 6-6-3 and only dropped one spot in the division. They had a two-point playoff cushion, the same as the beginning of the month. The problem, other teams had closed the gap. The Islanders didn’t drop out of the playoffs due to the month of February. However, they sure made it a lot harder on themselves.
The Bright Side (Maybe)
Throughout this entire piece, the name Mathew Barzal was never brought up. He’s a special talent and he leads the team in points (60). He was on pace to set his career-high and he will continue to develop. What this year has shown is that maybe he can’t be the leading points getter on a great team. What if he’s a really good number two. What’s wrong with that? In a year that seemed to come crashing down for the Islanders and their fans rather quickly, Barzal’s role has been solidified. He is the playmaker. The Nicklas Backstrom to a missing Alex Ovechkin, the Jakub Voracek to the missing Claude Giroux, the Teuvo Teravainen to the missing Sebastian Aho and well you get the point.
All this being said, if the season picks back up and the league finishes 82 games, maybe the Islanders find their way into a wild card spot. They are right there. If they don’t, look for these three reasons to continue until the season concludes. That would be a LONG February for the Islanders.