The New York Islanders line pairings for opening night are still not set. Islanders coach Barry Trotz and general manager Lou Lamoriello have shied away from announcing certain offseason transactions. Jordan Eberle took on a pseudonym when he checked into a hotel in Vegas before the expansion draft. Also, Zach Parise’s signing wasn’t announced until well into September. These moves aren’t incompetence from the management staff but a strategic way to keep opposing teams guessing.
The lack of insight affects the line scheme because there’s no clear starting lineup. Matt Barzal and Anders Lee are almost definite first-line players, but where does the rest of the team stand? Trotz regularly mixes lines during games because of the Islanders’ depth. He typically grants more ice time to a hot player. Barzal is known to double shift at times, and not only because Lee’s injury last year freed up extra ice time.
Through this vague Islanders offseason, here are how the Islanders should line up on opening night.
Anders Lee- Matt Barzal- Zach Parise
I feel that there should still be a question mark for the third member of this line. While we may see many different line combinations for the Islanders this season, Parise fits best on the top line. He is a high-percentage shooter, which will work wonders for Barzal, who can make miraculous passes, and Lee, whose sweet spot is in front of the net. My Parise article mentioned that he had a 12.2 S% in 2018-19 and a 16.1 S% in 2019-20. Parise had an off-season last year but told the press he is much happier with the Islanders. The top line should focus on getting as many pucks towards the net as possible, and Parise helps with that pursuit.
Josh Bailey- Brock Nelson- Kyle Palmieri
This line is proficient in playmaking ability. Palmieri and Nelson easily can go on hot streaks, and Bailey brings a jack-of-all-trades role to the pairing. All three players benefit from loose pucks in front of the net and are skilled enough to score on open shots. Nelson and Bailey tend to look for a pass instead of shooting, a playstyle that hurts the powerplay more than anything. Hopefully, Palmieri rectifies that. This pairing works best together because they complement each other. The other options on the wings would be Oliver Wahlstrom or Anthony Beauvillier, but those two players are young and fast. They would be off-tempo with the rest of the line.
Anthony Beauvillier- Jean-Gabriel Pageau- Oliver Wahlstrom
The Islanders’ third line would serve as the energy line. Both Wahlstrom and Beauvillier can fly on the ice. The speed element makes these two players more exciting than the typical NHL third-line pairing. With the versatility of Pageau, Trotz can rely on this line if he is disappointed with the top pairings. All three members aren’t afraid to shoot either. When Lee went down with an injury, Wahlstrom and Beauvillier were bounced around for the remainder of the year. If the line can stay together all season, it will be interesting to see how they work together.
Matt Martin- Casey Cizikas- Cal Clutterbuck
Ah, yes. The best fourth line in the NHL. I thought at even the Islanders’ worst time last season; this line did not stop working. They are ferocious hitmakers and are the team’s designated opening draw takers. This pairing is proficient on the defensive side of the puck, with no hesitation to drop the gloves. The Islanders’ fourth line separates itself from the rest of the league because they don’t take dirty hits. They balance the perfect amount of physical play with defensive prowess. The Islanders’ success is predicated on the health of the fourth line. If any of these players miss extended time due to injury, the impact will be more significant than losing Lee for the season.
D1: Adam Pelech- Ryan Pulock
D2: Zdeno Chara- Noah Dobson
D3: Andy Greene- Scott Mayfield
The defensive pairings are the same from day one of the Islanders training camp. Chara is replacing Nick Leddy, who was traded to the Detriot Red Wings this offseason. Even at 44, Chara still has gas in the tank and a heavy shot to boot. Having Pulock and Chara taking heat-seeking missiles from the blue line will only add to the Islanders’ offense. Chara is paired with Dobson because Trotz wants to replicate the pairing he had in Boston. Dobson will likely take a huge step forward in development, thanks to Chara.
Pulock and Pelech are arguably the best defensive pairing in the NHL. If you think that’s wrong, then listen to replays of last postseason. Piere McGuire constantly gushed about the pairing. You also can’t forget Pulcok’s save at the end of Game 3 in the 2020-21 Eastern Conference finals. This defense is elite.
Semyon Varlamov- Ilya Sorokin
Sorokin had a very impressive rookie season. After giving up five goals in his first NHL appearance, he struggled for his next three starts posting a .844 save percentage through his first three games. He’d post a .927 save percentage and three shutouts over his next 19 starts, finishing the regular season with a 13-6-3 record with a 2.17 goals-against average. The hope for Sorokin is that he can outstart Varlamov and become the outright starting goalie.
Varlamov will give him a run for his money. Varly placed in the top five in Vezina Trophy voting, which is pretty rare for a goalie at his age. With one of the best defenses in the league and a top-tier goalie coach in Mitch Corn, the Isles will probably stick with split starts at the position.Embed from Getty Images