Heading into December, the New York Islanders looked ready to take their place among the elite teams in the Eastern Conference. After a shaky month, Doug Weight’s team find themselves in need of some answers.
Entering the 2017-18 season, the New York Islanders goaltending situation was considered stable at worst, reliable at best. However, as the Islanders find themselves on the outside looking in at the Eastern Conference Playoffs for the first time this season, many concerns have arisen.
Goaltending, Defense A Major Issue
New York has allowed the most goals per game (3.58) in the NHL this season. They’ve also allowed the fourth-most shots per game in the NHL (33.45). Unlike previous seasons when the Islanders struggled to score goals, this season they seem to be unable to prevent them. That’s not to say the Islanders have been the strongest defensive team by any means historically, as one has to go back to the 2006-07 season for the last time they finished in the top half of the league in goals allowed per game (12th).
What Can Be Done?
The Islanders can do very little as far as goaltending is concerned. Christopher Gibson is having a decent season at Bridgeport (12-6, 2.49 GAA, .903 save percentage), but he is not considered a solid option for the future, nor does the franchise have the confidence that he can take over the top spot and provide substantially different results.
Unfortunately, prospects Ilya Sorokin and Linus Söderström cannot help, as both are signed in other leagues. Söderström could be available as soon as next season, but that doesn’t help the Islanders now.
Weight Frustrated With Excuses
Doug Weight is disturbed by the Islanders lack of energy of late, which was seen them put together a record of 5-9-2 since Dec. 1. They’ve been outscored 11-2 against the Avalanche and Bruins in their last two games. In an article by Newsday’s Brian Heyman, Weight spoke of his concerns.
“We have some young players, but it’s time for our group to lose the frailty B.S. It really is. It’s OK. You’re going to have stretches. But we’ve got to come out of this. And we’ve got to come out with fight.”
The team’s youngsters weren’t his only target, however.
“We’ve got guys that have played in this league for a long time and have been here for a long time and are sick and tired. You can say that, but we’ve got to go put in a great effort (Thursday), gritty, be a team that’s just got some fight, hard to play against, and go from there.”
Offense Has Been Solid But Is Top-Heavy
Only the Las Vegas Golden Knights and Tampa Bay Lighting are averaging more goals per game this season than the Islanders (3.38). However, most of their scoring has come from their top two lines.
Brock Nelson has no goals and just one assist in his last 10 games. Before being sent to Bridgeport on Monday, Anthony Beauvillier had only one goal and no assists in his previous 11 games. After getting off to a hot start, Casey Cizikas has just a goal and two assists in his last 17 games. Cal Clutterbuck has not scored a goal and has posted just two assists in his last 15 games. Shane Prince and Alan Quine have combined for no goals and just two assists in their 16 games this season.
The organization promoted Tanner Fritz from Bridgeport, who was leading the team in scoring (10 G, 25 A) prior to his call-up. Fritz made his debut on Tuesday against the Bruins, hoping to add some energy to the third line playing alongside Nelson and Prince. Fritz went scoreless in his NHL debut.
While scoring obviously has not been the Islanders problem, the lack of consistency from their third and fourth line has been noticeable since December. One strength the Islanders had the past few seasons was that all four of their lines were capable of beating you. This season the addition of Jordan Eberle, the development of Mathew Barzal and the dramatic improvement of Josh Bailey has given the Islanders two of the best lines in the NHL.
More production from the third and fourth lines might trigger more consistency defensively that can help the Islanders prevent the opponent from lighting the lamp.