Three Biggest Factors in the Islanders’ Loss to the Sabres

CALGARY, AB - FEBRUARY 12: New York Islanders Defenceman Andy Greene (4) skates with the puck during the second period of an NHL game where the Calgary Flames hosted the New York Islanders on February 12, 2022, at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, AB. (Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The New York Islanders dropped their third-straight game in a 6-3 loss on the road to the Buffalo Sabres. The Isles struggled to stay on the top of their game against one of the worst teams in the NHL. The Islanders never had the lead despite tying the game three separate times. The team has realistically run out of time to make a sensible playoff push, and future focus on the team may turn to their moves at the trade deadline. Here are the three biggest factors in the Islanders’ loss to the Sabres.

Fatigue in Net

As mentioned in Saturday’s article in their loss to Calgary, the Islanders will have a condensed schedule in the second half of the year. To add to that, Semyon Varlamov is stuck in Canada after testing positive for Covid. The absence of Varlamov thrusts Ilya Sorokin into the starting job until Varly can make it back to the US. At the beginning of the season, Sorokin had a similar workload and struggled to be consistently good. Coach Barry Trotz leans heavily on good goaltending, meaning that the Islanders are, again, at a disadvantage.

Sorokin played well, this game was more on the Islanders’ defense and forecheck than Sorokin, but he has allowed at least three goals in his last four starts. Kyle Okposo’s goal in the first period was a flukey tip from the point that knuckleballed past Sorokin, Tage Thompson scored while the Sabres were short-handed in the second, while Alex Tuch’s goal came on the powerplay in the final seconds of that same period. Even Victor Olofsson’s goal in the third was a one-timer shot while open. Sorokin didn’t get much help in front of him.

“I thought we showed real good character and found a way to get it tied up,” coach Barry Trotz said. “Our effort was committed today. But was it our best game? We lost, so it can’t be.”

Sorokin also started his fourth-straight game on Wednesday night, so it’s not a stretch to say the fatigue has been a factor in his recent struggles. Canada has a 10-day quarantine period for people who test positive for Covid. Varlamov will likely miss at least the next three games.

Bad Powerplay

The New York Islanders gave up their fifth short-handed goal of the season, the most of any other team. Sorokin has been in net for all five of those short-handed goals. Tuch’s goal in the second period set the tone for the rest of the game. Even if the Islanders went on to win, they would barely scrape by a Sabres franchise that’s going full rebuild.

The Islanders’ powerplay has suffered since John Tavares left in the 2017-18 offseason, with the Islanders lacking a pure scorer. While the powerplay has looked horrendous over the past few seasons, it has become cataclysmic this year. While they have scored two powerplay goals in the last three games, the short-handed goals against are an even bigger problem than generating offense.

This season, the Islanders rank 28th in powerplay goals, not too far off from their 2020-21 season rank of 25th. The vast discrepancy from last year’s numbers comes when comparing the goal differential. The Islanders had a +18 last season, compared to a -17 this year in almost the same amount of games.

Two Goals Late in Periods

Despite their play being mediocre tonight, the Islanders blew opportunities to hold a tie game. Zdeno Chara tripped Rasmus Asplund with a minute remaining in the third period. The Islanders couldn’t clear the zone, and the Tuch scored on Sorokin as Buffalo crashed the net. The official time of the goal was with one second remaining on the clock. So, the Islanders would need to do it a third time after coming from behind twice in back-to-back periods.

And they did. Kyle Palmieri scored his second goal of the game on a nice pass from Anders Lee. With ten minutes remaining on the clock, the Islanders could get some reprieve if they can at least keep the game tied and send it to overtime. Olofsson’s goal came with just under three minutes left to play in the game. Buffalo entered the zone on a broken play, and an Islanders’ forward left Olofsson open in front of the net. Dylan Cozens won a battle in the corner, then passed the puck to Olofsson for a one-timer that blew past Sorokin.

“It was one of those games where we found ourselves behind and having to keep coming back,” Lee said. “If this keeps happening, we’re going to be on the wrong side.”

Both of these plays were sloppy and clumsy from an Islanders team that prides itself on defense. The team continues to bask in every shortcoming this season has to offer. Even worse, the schedule doesn’t get easier from here. The Islanders face Boston on Thursday before taking on Montreal and Seattle. Any last vestiges of playoff hope will be on the line for the Islanders over the next week.

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