While the possibility still exists for the Islanders to make the playoffs, it’s likely not going to happen this season. There’s a myriad of reasons why they won’t be making the playoffs, but their performance against other playoff teams is a big contributor. It’s not often talked about, but the Islanders record against playoff teams is very poor this season.
For the purposes of this discussion, the record will be determined by teams currently sitting in a playoff spot as of 4/10. The Islanders have an overall record of 8-23-2 against these teams this season. If you count the Vegas Golden Knights and Vancouver Canucks, who are both on the fringe, you get an additional two wins and two losses to this record. What’s especially concerning about this record is that, of the eight wins, only four of them came against other Eastern Conference contenders.
The wins against playoff teams have mainly come when the Islanders play as the hosts. The home wins have come against the Bruins twice, the Oilers, the Blues and the Stars. The road wins have all come in the second half of the season. Two of them were against the New York Rangers, and the other was the Carolina Hurricanes road game won by Kyle Palmieri’s late game theatrics. The common thread in these wins is the Islanders playing their highest level of defensive game.
In all of these games, their opponents were held to two goals at most. In fact, the Oilers and Stars were the only teams to score over one goal in these eight wins. It emphasizes how this team lives and dies by the level of their defensive tenacity. Goaltending is a big part of this discussion too as the work of Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov played a big role in guiding the team to wins.
Whereas the theme amongst the wins was defensive intensity, the theme in the losses is overall inconsistency. Take for example the two performances against the Washington Capitals. At home, they lost at a final score of 2-0. The aforementioned strong play of the defense and goaltending was there with the Capitals only having one goal and with Varlamov making 34 saves. But the Islanders could not generate anything in their own zone and failed to score despite only being down the one goal. Now flash forward to the second meeting of these teams and it’s a very different story.
This time they were able to beat Vitek Vanecek, but had a lot more trouble keeping the Capitals at bay. It even took some late game heroics from Anders Lee to get this game tied at three for the single point. This is the level of inconsistency that’s led to the 25 total losses against playoff contenders. It’s essentially been a story of “if it’s not one thing it’s the other” for the Islanders this season.
What Needs To Improve
The offense has been streaky at points, but that’s not much of a surprise to many people. What’s surprising is how often the Islanders have been let down by their defense. A lot of these games against playoff teams haven’t just been close losses, there have been quite a few routs. The Panthers dropped 5+ on them twice, with the Hurricanes, Bruins and Blues all scoring 6 against them. This many routs in a single season is highly uncharacteristic given the usual standards for this defense oriented team.
They’ve had a lot of trouble this season getting the puck out of their own zone. They often spend long periods of time in their own zone, especially against some of these contending teams, that gets them burned. Every here and there Varlamov or Sorokin can bail them out and help get them a win. But often it results in these blowout performances or their inability to generate anything in their own zone. Even with their improved second half play, this still often becomes an issue. Improving play in their own zone has to be a point of emphasis in preparing for next season. Doing so will hopefully improve the team’s subpar play against the NHL’s strongest teams.
Featured image courtesy of The Canadian Press
Check out our NHL page for more updates!