Islanders: Three Takeaways from an Ugly Loss in Washington

Semyon Varlamov #40 of the New York Islanders (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Semyon Varlamov #40 of the New York Islanders (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz (Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)
New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz (Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports) /

The New York Islanders dropped a third consecutive decision, and the second-straight to the Washington Capitals, by a final score of 6-3 on Thursday night. It was an uncharacteristic way to lose for Barry Trotz’s group, as they surrendered six consecutive goals to drop the contest.

Here are three takeaways from a night to forget in Washington, D.C.

1. A tale of two games

It didn’t always look like it was going to be a disappointing night for the Islanders. In fact, they played very well in the first period, and however briefly, it looked like it might just carry over into the second.

I recall a very tangible feeling of the ice beginning to tilt shortly before the Capitals scored their first goal. It wasn’t really something super overt, it just felt like the contest had taken on a different tone by the time the clock had ticked down to the eleven-minute mark.

The Islanders were having trouble regaining puck possession, they couldn’t clear their own zone. Suddenly it felt like somehow they had begun to chase a game in which the scoreboard looked so tilted in their favor.  It wasn’t long after that Conor Sheary scored his first of two quick goals to put the Isles back on their heels further.

The Islanders were never able to get that second period under control. If they weren’t playing poor defensive hockey then Semyon Varlamov was letting up a soft goal, if that wasn’t happening then they were flubbing on clearing attempts and giving away further scoring chances. The entire final eleven minutes of the period felt like The Comedy Of Errors.

The Isles managed to regain some semblance of composure for the third period.  Now down 5-3, they came out and tried to beat the trap of Washington for pretty much the entire period. Only, try as they may, the Blue and Orange really didn’t manage to generate a whole lot of dangerous chances.

I mean, sure, they racked up zone time and shot attempts, but nothing felt particularly dangerous. They weren’t driving the net looking to collect rebounds, the forecheck felt familiarly ineffective, as many times the Caps quickly blew up an Islanders zone entry and sent the puck straight back across their blue line.

It was tough to watch. If you’re an Islanders fan and you missed it, good for you.

Leo Komarov #47 of the New York Islanders (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Leo Komarov #47 of the New York Islanders (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

2. The Islanders second line struggled again

The Islanders second line needs to begin elevating its play soon if this team wants to compete for a playoff position. If Brock Nelson, Josh Bailey, and whoever is on their line don’t begin playing to their potential soon, it’s going to be an uphill climb in the standings all season.

This isn’t just a phenomenon that has begun to take form in the last couple games either. Brock Nelson has two goals in six games. He hasn’t recorded a 5v5 point yet. Josh Bailey has one assist. Anthony Beauvillier, who is on injured reserve with a lower body injury, has one power-play assist and will also still be searching for his first 5v5 point upon his return to the lineup.

This Islanders second line seems like it’ll always struggle for consistency a bit. Brock is a streaky goal-scorer who often plays his best hockey in the first ~10-15 games of the regular season. I love Josh Bailey, but he is also prone to going long stretches without meaningful contributions. Beau has struggled out of the gate in two of the last three seasons, and now he finds himself on IR.

This second line, particularly Nelson and Bailey, needed to find another gear in this game and help the Islanders stay in it. Instead, Nelson and Bailey lined up with Leo Komarov last night for 7:39 of 5v5 ice time, and they produced very little.

An early game Brock Nelson power cut to the Capitals crease and a Josh Bailey shot from directly in front of the Capitals net are the two high quality chances I saw this line generate last night. Natural Stat Trick corroborates that, only one high-danger chance for on the night.

They were one of only two Islanders even-strength lines with a CF% below 50. They also had the three lowest individual game score ratings of any Islanders skaters, according to

This isn’t the only Islanders line struggling to find itself early in this truncated 2020-21 regular season, but of those, it’s the most-important.

Think for a second about what the Islanders need most. In my mind, their worst need is consistent scoring, and this is one of the two lines who was able to provide that in 2019-20, and throughout the deep playoff run in the Toronto and Edmonton bubbles.

Without this second line going, the Islanders become an even more offensively-challenged team than they already are. Right now, Brock, Bailey, Beau – they aren’t going, and that’s causing a lot of problems that need to get sorted out very quickly, or like I and others have already said, the Islanders are going to be chasing other teams in the standings all season long.

Oliver Wahlstrom #26 of the New York Islanders (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Oliver Wahlstrom #26 of the New York Islanders (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

3. Outlook for the future

Being 3-4-0 through seven games is not how anyone in the Islanders locker room envisioned them starting this season I’m sure. But that’s the place they’re in, folks, and it comes down to the fact that they just haven’t played very well thus far in 2020-21.

The Isles, in my opinion, have played two good games out of seven. Beating the Rangers and Devils, two teams projected to finish outside the playoff race, have been their best overall performances. They’ve also lost to both those teams by shutout.

In a normal NHL season, a slow start can be a hindrance that’s forgotten by the new year. In the case of the compact 2020-21 NHL regular-season schedule though, it could threaten to be way more than that, in no small part because every game becomes a four-point game.

When every game you play has serious implications for your playoff chances, winning the ones that are against inferior or otherwise compromised competition becomes crucially important. That’s especially the case when you play in the projected group of death, such as the East Division has shaped up to be.

The Islanders have dropped games to inferior teams like the Devils and Rangers twice now with uninspired performances.

They were shutout by Scott Wedgewood, the Devils goalie who spent all of 2018-19 and 2019-20 playing in the AHL. Wedgewood himself was only starting because Corey Crawford retired just before the season began, and Devils starter Mackenzie Blackwood was going through the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol.

They just lost two in a row to a Capitals team missing a list of names that could be penciled in as a line at the NHL All Star Game in most years.

Have their performances this past week inspired any confidence that the Islanders could hang with the league’s best? They shouldn’t.

But that’s not to say this is a bad team. At least, I don’t think it is. The deep playoff run, the 17-game point streak, the sweep of the Penguins in the first round in 2018-19, giving the Lightning a run for their money in this summer’s ECF, I don’t believe any of that was a fluke.

There are a lot of people who are ready to write this off as the Islanders finally regressing to the mean. I don’t believe that’s what this is. I still (though admittedly a little more tentatively now than before) think this team will finish in the top-four of the East Division. It is, however, going to take them turning it around and performing up to their potential for that to happen.


Oliver Wahlstrom, the Islanders prospect winger and former first-round pick, potted his first NHL goal. It wasn’t as he dreamed it would be I’m sure, but hey, the kid got in the lineup and scored a goal.

Speaking of Wahlstrom, I could get used to watching J.G. Pageau center a line with Kieffer Bellows and the aforementioned Wahlstrom. That third line trio didn’t look bad at all. They were pressed into their own zone a little too often considering the kids don’t have the in-game reps yet to perfectly play their role in that Trotz system, but otherwise I liked the look of it.

The third line moved their legs, were aggressive on the forecheck, but not dangerously so, and they created chances. Most importantly, Pageau looked like he had a couple of guys on his line who he trusted to drive play.

Casey Cizikas was shaken up late in Thursday’s game by a Richard Panik body check. He spoke to the media via Zoom after the game, a good indicator that he’s alright.

Speaking of Cizikas, he scored a goal last night. But, otherwise it was another underwhelming performance from the Islanders’ fourth line, which has really failed to bring the energy they usually do. Last night was more of the same on that front, unfortunately.