A look back at the Islanders’ incredibly eventful year.
What a year this has been for the New York Islanders. They made it to the 2021 playoffs as the fourth-place team in their division, but caught fire as they did the year before and made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Final.
They unfortunately found themselves taking on the best team in the league, the Tampa Bay Lightning, once again, ending their impressive playoff run one round short of the Stanley Cup Final for the second-consecutive season.
The organization and fanbase were naturally disappointed, but 2021 was a monumental year for the Islanders. This was the year that they formally established themselves as one of the best teams in the NHL.
Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case so far in the 2021-22 season. Poor play but mainly an awful COVID-19 outbreak that was severely mishandled by the NHL has resulted in the Islanders sitting in last place in their highly competitive division.
The Islanders have many games in hand and have been playing much better lately, but their situation isn’t great. We’ll get to all that shortly.
Let’s recap this busy, exciting, and troublesome year for the Islanders.
2021 Best Moment: the 2021 playoff run
This is a no-brainer. The Islanders’ fantastic playoff run was the highlight of their year. The Islanders played a grand total of three series in the playoffs, all of which were tough, but they did what they had to do.
They kicked things off against their favorite playoff opponent, the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Islanders won that one in six exciting games.
They took on another rival team in the next round, the Boston Bruins. They also won this series in six games.
We know how the Conference Final ended for New York, but the Islanders were so impressive here.
Making it to seven games when you don’t have home-ice advantage against the reigning Stanley Cup champions that’s also the best team in the league as well as the team that would go on to win it all again is no easy feat.
The Islanders were able to make it that far without having home ice advantage in any series. Watching the team’s second line, the “Killer B’s”, lead the way was one of the best parts about these playoffs.
Fans aren’t going to forget this playoff run any time soon and will hope that the team can get it together and make it to the playoffs in 2022 to get another taste.
2021 Worst Moment: the late November COVID disaster
The beginning of the 2021-22 season was pretty wild for the Islanders. They started things off on the road and didn’t play a game at home, the brand new UBS Arena, until the middle of November.
Performance-wise, the Islanders looked pretty disappointing until things began to click for them. They strung together a streak of seven-straight games with a point before it all started going downhill.
It began with a long-term injury to star RHD Ryan Pulock, who is still out. Then COVID hit. More and more players entered protocol by the day and the team began to look like it belonged in the AHL.
C Brock Nelson, who had been the team’s best forward as well as one of their best players, was the only bright spot during this dark time and even he didn’t last, having to be sidelined for several weeks with an injury.
During that awful stretch, from mid-November until early December, the Islanders lost 11 straight games. In an eight-game span in the middle of that funk, they scored more than a goal just once.
The amount of players missing from the lineup was unbelievable. Just look at the lines that faced the New York Rangers on Nov. 24th:
Anthony Beauvillier-Jean-Gabriel Pageau-Kyle Palmieri
Zach Parise-Mathew Barzal-Richard Pánik
Andy Andreoff-Otto Koivula-Oliver Wahlstrom
Matt Martin-Casey Cizikas-Cal Clutterbuck
Robin Salo-Scott Mayfield
Sebastian Aho-Grant Hutton
Thomas Hickey-Paul LaDue
Several of the players in this lineup went on to spend time in protocol, as well. The Islanders had a rough go of things because of this outbreak and the fact that the situation was completely mishandled by the league made it even worse.
Only two of the team’s games were postponed when, in reality, it should have been so much more.
Because they were forced to play with the vast majority of their lineup out, the Islanders are in last place in the division with the playoffs out of reach, at least for now.
We know what they’re capable of when they’re at full strength, but they’ve dug themselves into a deep hole and have to pass some of the best teams in the league in order to get out.
2021 MVP: HC Barry Trotz
The Islanders have some incredibly talented players who are some of the best at their positions. C Mathew Barzal. LHD Adam Pelech. RHD Ryan Pulock. G Ilya Sorokin.
These are a few Islanders who were, without a doubt, instrumental to the team’s success in 2021. However, the organization’s most valuable guy is their coach.
We all know that the Islanders are a great team with a great roster. But this team with a different coach probably doesn’t make it to the Conference Final at all, let alone twice in a row.
The Islanders went from being one of the worst teams in the league to one of the best once Trotz took over, and we continued to see his brilliance at work in 2021. The guy is a genius.
The Islanders being one of the few top teams without much star power is testament to how great of a coach Trotz is. He’s the best in the NHL and has made all the difference in the world.
He seems to always make the right decisions and it’s clear that his players love playing for him.
The Islanders aren’t in a great situation right now, but Trotz leading the way inspires hope that they’ll be able to beat the odds and get back to the playoffs, where they belong.
2021 LVP: W Kyle Palmieri
Early in the 2021 season, captain Anders Lee went down with an injury. He underwent surgery and was ruled out for the remainder of the season. This was a huge loss for the Islanders.
Aside from the intangibles he brings to the table, he was the team’s top LW and was New York’s best player until that point.
GM Lou Lamoriello almost immediately announced that the Islanders would address and prioritize the winger position at the deadline. He did just that and in true Lou fashion, went and got a guy that he drafted himself.
The Islanders acquired Kyle Palmieri along with Travis Zajac from the New Jersey Devils. Palmieri, probably one of the most underrated goalscorers in the NHL for several seasons, was having an off year with the Devils prior to being traded.
The Devils, though, were one of the worst teams in the league and many believed a change in scenery and joining one of the top teams in the league would get the veteran going.
That didn’t happen. Palmieri scored just two goals and four points in 17 regular season games with the Islanders. He was much better in the playoffs, scoring seven goals and nine points in 19 games, but is struggling once again this season.
Palmieri being the team’s LVP must be taken with a grain of salt. The Islanders are one of the best teams in the NHL, meaning they don’t really have many bad players. Palmieri hasn’t been terrible, he just isn’t living up to expectations.
Scoring two goals post-trade deadline and now one goal and seven points in 25 games this season while also playing poor defense isn’t really what the Islanders signed up for.
The fact that they just signed him to a four-year, $20 million deal during the offseason doesn’t help, either.
When the Islanders traded for Palmieri, they were hoping to get a proven goal-scoring winger. He’s had his moments, but the Islanders are still looking for more.
Palmieri will have to start doing much more if the Islanders hope to start climbing the standings.
Overall 2021 Grade: A-
This grade is pretty self-explanatory. The Islanders made it to the Eastern Conference Final and lost to the team that went on to win it all.
The reason they get an A- and not an A is because of their start to this season. Much of it isn’t their fault: they fell victim to some serious negligence on the part of the league.
But the Islanders aren’t innocent, either. They dropped points on multiple occasions to teams they should’ve beaten.
Even though they’re struggling now, few fans will say that they’re disappointed with how 2021 went for the Isles. Now let’s see if they can turn things around and head back to the playoffs.