Islanders: Three Takeaways from Frustrating Loss at Penguins

PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - FEBRUARY 18: Anders Lee #27 of the New York Islanders fixes his gloves during a pause in NHL action against the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG PAINTS Arena on February 18, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - FEBRUARY 18: Anders Lee #27 of the New York Islanders fixes his gloves during a pause in NHL action against the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG PAINTS Arena on February 18, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)
3 of 3
Next
Kieffer Bellows #20 of the New York Islanders (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Kieffer Bellows #20 of the New York Islanders (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

The New York Islanders’ intensity seemed to fade with each successive period on Thursday night, culminating in what was a disappointing and frustrating loss in Pittsburgh.

The New York Islanders didn’t bring their best to Thursday night’s game in Pittsburgh, falling by a final score of 4-1 to a Penguins team that got some bounces, but also played a very focused game throughout.

Here are three takeaways from the game that ended the Islanders point streak.

1. Kieffer Bellows Didn’t Provide Much in Return to Islanders Lineup

I don’t want to spend too much time pointing fingers at any one player in particular, because this game felt like a team loss, not one where we should single out individuals. But, Kieffer Bellows was not good in his return to the lineup at either end of the ice on Thursday, and head coach Barry Trotz let him, and the media, hear about it.

“Dal Colle went in and did a really good job. [Oliver Wahlstrom] went in, he’s done a really good job. That was Kieffer’s opportunity.” said Trotz in his post-game presser. That’s about as scathing an indictment of a player’s performance as I’ve heard from Trotz in his tenure with the Islanders.

Just watching the game I had the feeling that, at the very least, Bellows wasn’t going to be back in the lineup on Saturday. But the pointed words from Trotz I didn’t see coming.

Bellows lost his defensive assignment early in the third period, leaving Jason Zucker undefended, who then ripped an unchallenged shot from the low slot to make it a 3-0 game.

Bellows already didn’t bring anything to the table offensively on Thursday night, the last thing he needed to do was get crossed up in his own zone to allow a goal against. If there’s a single way to land in Barry Trotz’s dog house, that’s pretty much it.

I’ve seen a lot of fans complaining about Trotz’s comments already, saying that Barry singled Kieffer out and that he’s harsher on younger players. I don’t disagree with that sentiment, but in this instance, I have to say I find the claim to be pretty baseless.

Other young players like Noah Dobson, Oliver Wahlstrom, and Michael Dal Colle have worked their way into regular roles on this Islanders team, and they’re managing to play within themselves to stay in on a nightly basis.

Bellows didn’t bring anything of note offensively, and he was pretty much directly responsible for a goal against. I’d expect Brock Nelson and Jordan Eberle’s former linemate Michael Dal Colle will be back in the lineup on Saturday.

Sorry, Kieffer.

New York Islanders defenseman Nick Leddy (2) Mandatory Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports
New York Islanders defenseman Nick Leddy (2) Mandatory Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports /

2. New York Islanders Didn’t Challenge Tristan Jarry Enough

Making a goalie’s job harder by setting screens and attacking rebounds is part of what makes some of the best NHL teams so hard to play against. Unfortunately, the Islanders just never made Jarry’s job very hard on Thursday night, and it’s a big part of the reason why they only scored one goal.

Pittsburgh’s starter, Tristan Jarry, has been one of the NHL’s worst starting goalies in 2020-21. Jarry had allowed three goals or more in each of his previous five starts entering Thursday night. One of those five games came against the Islanders, who filled the net four times against Jarry on February 6 in a 4-3 Islanders win.

Goals Saved Above Expected, or GSAx, is one of the most-highly valued goaltending stats available today among the analytics community.

According to Patrick Bacon, aka Top Down Hockey, Jarry ranks last in the NHL among qualifying goaltenders with a -8.4 GSAx. Moneypuck has a similar stat, SV% above expected, which Jarry ranks second-worst in among goalies starting nine or more games, with a -2.17%, better than only Ottawa’s Marcus Hogberg.

Pittsburgh’s goaltending has been rated among the worst in the NHL, and Tristan Jarry being their starter is a pretty big reason for that.

What I’m trying to say is, for a goaltender who has such a bad track record in 2020-21, Jarry sure looked steady against the Islanders. Part of that was Pittsburgh playing a good game in their own zone.

The Penguins cleaned up rebounds, forced the Islanders to shoot from the perimeters, and played a very tight-checking game overall. But the Islanders also did very little to push back against the Penguins, who don’t really have the most outstanding defense corps.

The Isles need to challenge a goalie like Jarry more than they did. Most, if not all NHL goalies are going to be able to stop 99% of shots from the perimeters if they can see them coming. There was a notable lack of traffic in front of Jarry’s crease, and no Islanders in the vicinity to put back loose pucks after initial saves.

The Islanders made Jarry’s night too easy, and they scored only once on one of the league’s worst goalies because of it.

Brock Nelson #29 of the New York Islanders (Photo by Kevin Hoffman/Getty Images)
Brock Nelson #29 of the New York Islanders (Photo by Kevin Hoffman/Getty Images) /

3. Islanders Forwards Continuing to Struggle

I take no pleasure in saying that several Islanders forwards continued to look lost Thursday night. It’s a worrying trend that has continued from opening night at Madison Square Garden straight up to last night’s 4-1 loss.

I mean, is Brock Nelson ever going to score a 5v5 goal again? Sure, he buried the Islanders’ only goal of the game, but it was a late power-play goal in garbage time. The Islanders as a team had long since looked resigned to losing by the time Nelson scored his fourth goal of 2020-21. Plus, Tristan Jarry’s penalty kill SV% is an absolutely horrendous .795.

But, Nelson isn’t the only veteran forward struggling. Josh Bailey too has yet to find his game, and because I know there will be several of you who try to be witty and make some remark about Bailey never having a game, to begin with, he had 20 points during the Islanders’ 22-game playoff run in the bubble. Whether you like him or not, that production is difficult to replace.

Anthony Beauvillier needs some slack because he’s only just returning from injured reserve, but he too has been cold since 2020-21 began. A season ago it seemed as if Beauvillier was primed to have a breakout year in which he’d finally take that next step and solidify himself as a top-six NHL forward.

Beau finished with a career-high 39 points in his age 22 season and added another 14 in his red-hot bubble performance alongside Nelson and Bailey. But, in my mind at least, he hasn’t taken that next step yet that tells me he can be a legitimate presence in the Islanders top-six consistently.

The fourth line, after a couple good performances that showed us flashes of the best fourth line in hockey, reverted to a subpar trio of aging bottom-sixers on Thursday.

Look, I’m not saying the sky is falling because the Islanders lost a game in regulation. They’re still in a good position in the standings, and if they win their next game then they’re in an even better one. I still think all of the players mentioned above are too talented to stay this cold for much longer.

But, we need to see them start showing their talent. Barry Trotz tried putting the Beau-Nelson-Bailey trio together again in Thursday’s game, perhaps to see if they could revive some of that playoff bubble magic. It didn’t happen. The fourth line got worked over for most of Thursday night.

Whatever needs to be done to get these guys more engaged and productive, it better happen soon.

Next