Islanders’ Report Card Through the First Ten Games

MONTREAL, QC - NOVEMBER 04: Andy Greene #4 of the New York Islanders congratulates goaltender Ilya Sorokin #30 for their victory against the Montreal Canadiens at Centre Bell on November 4, 2021 in Montreal, Canada. The New York Islanders defeated the Montreal Canadiens 6-2. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

Entering the season, the New York Islanders were already at a disadvantage. Because of their new area, UBS Arena in Belmont, the team won’t play a home game until Nov. 20. The first thirteen games of the season would have to be road games. With Nick Leddy and Jordan Eberle leaving during the offseason, the lineup needed change. General manager Lou Lamoriello signed Zdeno Chara and Zach Parise to replace them. Now, ten games into the season, let’s grade the Islanders early-season performance. Here is the Islanders’ report card through the season’s first few weeks using an A-D system.

Offense

Last season, in the MassMutual East division, the Islanders finished fourth with 71 points. Their win/loss record as the away team was 11-13-4, barely under .500. Comparatively, they were 21-4-4 at home. That differential can be partly due to the lack of offense. The Islanders ranked 21st in scoring last season, while they allowed the second-lowest amount of goals. Though it is early into the season, the Islanders currently rank 27th in team scoring.

The two new additions in Parise and Chara are good depth adds, but I thought they would contribute more to the offense. Parise is on the third line with J.G. Pageau and Oliver Wahlstrom, while Chara moves between the defensive pairings. Chara has struggled the most between the two, as he has two assists and a 0 +/- through ten games played. He is big and bulky and powerful but hasn’t used his one-time famous slap-shot. Parise plays incredibly similar to Pageau, which is not bad, as it compliments Wahlstrom nicely.

Matt Barzal is the one player that Isalnders’ fans see as “the guy that replaces John Tavares.” Honestly, he’s still not there yet, and shouldn’t even be put there in the first place. Barzal is so much better at setting up plays than finishing them. What’s needed on the top line is a sniper that can put a puck on net.

Barzal desperately needs someone to take the tight coverage off of him. I’m not suggesting a trade either. Maybe give a shot to the known snipers on the team; Anthony Beauvillier, Parise, or Wahlstrom. Coach Barry Trotz’s coaching philosophy is giving deserving players deserved minutes, but it seems like teams are starting to figure out the defensive-minded strategy. At times this season, it has sunk the Islanders’ chance of staying competitive in games.

Oh, and the powerplay is brutal. 4-25 to start the year. Yuck!

Grade: C

Defense

The Islanders defense has taken a step back from last year. With Andy Greene and Chara, the Isles defense is the oldest and likely the slowest in the NHL. While Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech are top-tier d-man, the share of ice time is pretty even. Pulock, Pelech, and Mayfield are on ice for 23 minutes a game, while Greene, Chara, and Dobson skate for about 18 minutes.

The Islanders need someone out of this defensive group to step up as a leader. Leddy and Johnny Boychuk were the leaders for the previous defensive core. The gap in leadership with this current defensive core is causing them to play mediocre hockey. The weakest part of the defense’s game is by losing the battles along the boards. Chara is too tough to go through, so other teams just go around him. He isn’t fast enough to win a race to a puck, and then the team can cycle and maintain possession in the zone.

Chara is not the scapegoat for why the defense feels off this year. As a whole, all the pairings are still trying to get into mid-season form. The Islanders ranked second-lowest in goals-against average and fifth in penalty kill percentage during the 2020-21 regular season. This year they rank fifth in goals-against and twelfth in penalty kill percentage. Last year’s stats were over 56 games in a season that was shortened by the Covid pandemic. This season they have 82 games to work it out.

Grade: B

Goaltending

Ilya Sorokin is a god amongst men. He is 5-2-2 through his nine starts posting a .939 save percentage. He is sporting a 1.98 goals against average and has three shutouts already. He is keeping the Islanders afloat for a goalie who saw defensive changes in front of him and an offense that can’t produce consistently. Tandem goalie Semyon Varlamov started the season on the injured reserve due to soreness that plagued him last year. Sorokin has had to start the first nine games of the season with no backup goalie.

Now, with Varly back in the lineup, Sorokin will get some rest – not that he needed it. Sorokin posted a shutout in back-to-back games against the Vegas Golden Knights and Arizona Coyotes. While he is 26 and should be nearing his prime, the Islanders should be wary about overusing their young goaltender. Varlamov has been a perpetual finalist for the Vezina trophy since coming to the Island, and he is a more than great option in net.

Having both goaltenders back to full health will only serve the Islanders better. Varlamov may look rusty for the next week or two, but the Islanders have the most potent goalie tandem in the NHL when both men are healthy.

Grade: A

The Verdict

The Islanders are still in a feeling-out process for this season. Neither the offense nor defense has hit their stride yet. The goaltending has been unbelievable and will only get better as Varlamov gets comfortable in net. Coach Barry Trotz is continuing to mess with the offensive and defensive lines, but the key to the scoring remains the same; the Islanders need to shoot more. Trotz has also seemingly abandoned pinching his defenders in. This may help Andy Greene and Zdeno Chara from their problems with backchecking. Again, the Islanders are still not firing on all cylinders, but they still have 72 more games to figure that out.

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