Positive Takeaways from the Islanders First Win of 2021-22 Season

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - OCTOBER 19: Oliver Wahlstrom #26 of the New York Islanders celebrates with teammate Adam Pelech #3 after scoring his second goal of the game against the Chicago Blackhawks in the third period at United Center on October 19, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. The Islanders defeated the Blackhawks 4-1. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

The Islanders closed out the Chicago Blackhawks 4-1 to win their first game of the season. In a game that started slow for both teams, the Islanders played their best period of the year in the third. The first period was a showcase of both teams’ struggles this year. The Blackhawks have yet to lead through four games, and the Islanders’ slow defense gave the puck away many times. Oliver Wahlstrom scored twice, and Ilya Sorokin stood firm in net. With the first win of the year under their belt, let’s analyze the positive takeaways from the game on Tuesday.

Ilya Sorokin

During their morning skate, Islanders head coach Barry Trotz told the Athletic’s Arthur Staple that he hadn’t seen the best from Sorokin. Through his first two games, Sorokin allowed ten goals with a whopping 70 shots against. Initially looking fine in both games, Sorokin struggled as the games went, and the score got out of hand. The Islanders attempted a comeback in the opening game against the Carolina Hurricanes, but the five goals allowed by Sorokin were too much to overcome. Trotz said that Sorokin hadn’t given the Islanders a save when they needed it.

Against the Blackhawks, Sorokin went to work early. Many chances in the first period came from defensive turnovers in the neutral zone. Sorokin looked better in both his position and anticipating the puck. One of his best saves came off a Jake McCabe shot from inside the zone. The Islanders turned the puck over, and with McCabe having space to shoot, Sorokin closed the distance between them and snuffed out the shot attempt.

Sorokin’s part in the win will feed his confidence as he is the starter for the immediate future. Semyon Varlamov, who splits games with Sorokin, is still recovering from an offseason injury. Sorokin struggled in his first two NHL starts last season before tying the team’s rookie record of consecutive wins at eight.

Sorokin only allowed one goal, scored by MacKenzie Entwistle with 26 seconds remaining in the game. Trotz commented on his netminder’s performance during the postgame.

“I really felt bad for him. I wanted him to get the shutout. He deserved the shutout. But we failed him in the last few seconds,” Trotz said.

Oliver Wahstrom

Wahlstrom put the finishing touches on the Islanders’ win with two goals in the third period. Forty-eight seconds into the period, he stole the puck after a shot by Casey Cizikas was blocked. Wahlstrom went to the short-side on Blackhawks goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and increased the deficite. With a 2-0 lead late in the game, the Islanders could control the pace. Later, at 8:51 in the period, Wahlstrom converted on a cross-ice pass from center J.G. Pageau. His second goal of the game iced the win for the Islanders.

Wahlstrom skates on the third line with Pageau and offseason acquisition Zach Parise. After putting together two decent games, the trio broke out against the Blackhawks. Pageau led all Islander forwards in ice time and wasn’t afraid to shoot the puck. Both of Wahlstrom’s goals came off of Pageau’s shot being blocked by Blackhawk defenders. Wahlstrom had a game-high eight shots on goal. With captain Anders Lee missing the game due to illness, Wahlstrom has been the perfect fill-in for point production.

“When Wally gets open, he can shoot it as good as any young player in the league,” Trotz said in the postgame. “I think positionally, he was in a real good position. He made good decisions at the blue line offensively, and he was moving his feet. When Wally’s having success, he’s moving his feet, he’s able to get open, create some loose pucks so he can get shots off.”

Matt Martin

The fourth line is back! Arthur Staple via Twitter released Martin’s absence from the lineup was due to offseason ankle surgery the bruising winger had suffered. Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck had pedestrian performances through the first two games. Martin’s return to the lineup re-solidifies the physicality that the Islanders were missing.

Martin blindsided Mike Hardman with 13:16 remaining in the third period. Hardman was caught in an awkward position, and teammate Jujhar Khaira took exception. Martin and Khaira dropped the gloves behind the play at center ice but were stopped by the referees before they came to blows. Hardman went back to the locker room, and Khaira and Martin served 5-minute fighting major penalties.

The Islanders’ fourth line is its best as a complete unit. Cizikas, Clutterbuck, and Martin dominated on the forecheck during the late stages of the game. The fourth line will be an essential piece if the Islanders want a successful 2021-22 season.

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