Three Observations From The Islanders Loss to The Flames

CALGARY, AB - FEBRUARY 12: New York Islanders Goalie Ilya Sorokin (30) sprays water on his face 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 lost 5-2 on Saturday night to the Calgary Flames, further distancing any playoff hopes. A myriad of things went wrong for the Islanders, but the game was still close entering the third period. While both teams played flat throughout the second period, the Flames picked up the pace and widened their one-goal lead. The Islanders skated well in the first but ran out of gas in the second and looked exhausted in the third. Here are three observations from the Islanders’ loss to the Flames.

Ilya Sorokin

Semyon Varlamov was supposed to start this game, but he was a late scratch due to Covid protocols. Though the NHL doesn’t require testing for asymptomatic players, testing is permitted when crossing between the US and Canada. Apparently, the Islanders were not informed of Sorokin’s positive test until just before puck drop. The team started their three-game road trip in Canada on February 9th. Another stroke of bad luck in an already disaster of a season.

“Varly obviously was scheduled to play. He was warmed up,” coach Barry Trotz said post-game. “We got the results basically, I think there was maybe about ten minutes before we were going back on the ice.”

Sorokin handled the starting job as best he could. He has now started three-straight games for the Isles and started five of the last six. Like in last night’s game against the Edmonton Oilers, he seems a little off. Obviously, fatigue is a considerable factor, but in general and with rest, something is missing from Sorokin’s game. Against Calgary and Edmonton, he lacked that “big save ability” that keeps the Islanders close in games. He was in net for all five goals and has let in at least three goals in each start since the All-Star break. The Islanders have given up the first goal in eight of their last nine games.

“It is tougher cause all of a sudden, if you give a second goal now, you’re really battling it,” Trotz said. “There’s no room for error.”

The absence of Varlamov was a tough break for Sorokin and represents the bleak future of a condensed schedule. Without a massive point streak, the Islanders are likely missing the playoffs this season.

Matt Barzal

For the first time in a long time, Matt Barzal didn’t have a good game. He didn’t produce much offensively, lost some passes in neutral ice, and was barely noticeable on the broadcast. Like Sorokin, fatigue could be a factor in lackluster play, but Barzal is most trusted when the puck is on his stick. If Barzal doesn’t play well, usually the team doesn’t either.

It’s weird to harp on Barzal when he typically plays his heart out, and there are plenty of other Islanders who deserve scrutiny. This team is lacking leadership in the worst way. The Islanders had zero urgency in the third period over the past two games while pretty much waiving the white flag once they were down multiple goals. This season may end in disappointment, but Barzal’s emergence as a leader can brighten the Islanders’ future.

With key members of the team leaving over the past two seasons, the Islanders lost players who were lockerroom leaders. General Manager Lou Lamoriello tried to bridge that gap by bringing in veterans in Kyle Palmieri, Zdeno Chara, and Zach Parise, but the Isles still look lost. Chara and Palmieri are in the midst of terrible seasons, while Parise has at least earned a spot on the third line.

Barzal is now in his fifth full NHL season and should be the candidate to hold guys accountable. As important as Anders Lee is to this team, they need more than one guy to step up and lead. Why not the most skilled player on the team?

No Push After the First

A common thread over the past two games is the dropoff of energy late in games. The Islanders entered the third period in both games and treaded water until the score was out of reach. The Islanders still have nine back-to-back games and have to play around 40 games in around 80 days. This schedule does not get easier.

The lone bright spot between the second and third periods was the response goal from J.G. Pageau. The Islanders entered the second period down 2-1 after letting up a goal to Christopher Tanev with just under two minutes to play in the first. They conceded a third goal late in the second period, after Andrew Mangiapane tipped in a shot from Adam Ruzicka.

The Islanders, who looked flat all period, flipped the switch, and Pageau, Parise, and Oliver Wahlstrom came flying into the Flames’ zone. Parise played the puck behind the net, then found Pageau with a nifty pass to the front of the net. Pageau caught goalie Jacob Markstrom out of position.

“Biggest disappointment was the third,” Trotz said. “[The Flames] had better legs, they were winning more battles, they were getting more pucks.”

Besides that, the Islanders barely got any zone time. There were a few shots from Josh Bailey and Anthony Beauvillier, but no established pressure. Calgary’s forecheck kept the Islanders cycling through their own zone, making it hard to maintain an offense. Throughout the third, the Islanders were stuck to weathering a Flames offensive attack, working for a breakout pass, then lose possession as lines changes happened. It’s unfortunate that fatigue is setting in, but, again, they have a grueling schedule for the rest of the season. There just seem like too many problems to assess for things to go right for this team.

What’s Next?

The Islanders are off until Tuesday, taking on the Buffalo Sabres in Buffalo. The Islanders lead the season series 1-0 with a 4-1 win over the Sabres on New Year’s Eve. Every game from here on out will be must-wins for the Isles.

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