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.