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Islanders need to be less rigid and learn to adapt to succeed

UNIONDALE, NEW YORK - APRIL 09: Kyle Palmieri #21 and Travis Zajac #14 of the New York Islanders skates against the New York Rangers at Nassau Coliseum on April 09, 2021 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
UNIONDALE, NEW YORK - APRIL 09: Kyle Palmieri #21 and Travis Zajac #14 of the New York Islanders skates against the New York Rangers at Nassau Coliseum on April 09, 2021 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Things aren’t going too well for the New York Islanders right now. Sure, they just won against the Philadelphia Flyers but anyone watching can tell you it wasn’t a convincing win by any stretch. And it’s been that way for some time now.

The Islanders haven’t put up a convincing win in some time now. The 8-4 win against the Capitals 18 days ago was the last good win for the Isles. Sure, they’ve gone 5-3-0 since that win against the Caps, but they’ve looked largely out-of-sync, disengaged, and frankly lost during that stretch.

And to a certain extent, the Islanders inability to adapt has cost them.

New York Islanders need to learn to adapt

It’s the second year in a row now that the Islanders dip their toes in the trade market and add a big piece to the roster. Last year it was Jean-Gabriel Pageau from Ottawa and now it’s Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac from the New Jersey Devils.

All three have had a difficult time finding their place in the Islanders lineup immediately after the trade. It took a stoppage in play and a mini-camp for Jean-Gabriel Pageau to finally find his place and execute. Palmieri and Zajac won’t get that opportunity (hopefully).

To a certain extent, I understand the notion that these players are coming to the Islanders and the Islanders play a certain way, these players have to find a way to fit. But that isn’t exactly working, is it? The Islanders rigidity is very much part of the problem.

They have to find a way to fit Palmieri and Zajac into the system rather than the other way around.

Travis Zajac

At the moment the Isles are using Zajac as a top-line winger/center. They’re using him primarily in the offensive zone (51.1% offensive zone starts) even though Zajac hasn’t been an offense-first guy since 2013-14.

I understand that in different situations flipping the script on usage can bring something out of a player. William Karlsson is the prime example. His first year in Vegas was the first year he was used primarily in the offensive zone and he exploded for 43 goals on the year. But that was a 25-year-old forward entering his prime while Zajac is a 36-year-old veteran coming to the end of his.

The Islanders have to start using him for what he’s good at now and that’s playing bottom-six minutes and primarily in the defensive zone. Let him create offense out of defense. It’s what he’s good at, and frankly, it’s something the Islanders are known for.

Kyle Palmieri

With Palmieri, they’ve got him playing a middle-six role next to either Brock Nelson and Jean-Gabriel Pageau. And look, it’s not really working. Palmieri has no production and only eight shots across six games with the Isles (at 5on5). That’s 6.62 shots/60, a career-low for Palmieri.

They aren’t using Palmieri as a top-end volume shooter and that’s a problem.

Since Anders Lee went down they’ve needed someone to get shots on goal. With Lee in the lineup, the Islanders averaged 29.7 shots-for/60 in all situations (13th in the NHL), since Lee’s injury that’s fallen to 28.86 (19th in the NHL).

(Stats from NaturalStatTrick.)

Look, I know that some of this is on the players. They have to find a way to fit, but it’s also on the Islanders to accommodate those new acquisitions. It’s not the right approach to have these guys “figure it out” or “learn on the fly”. Put them in situations that will bring the best out of them.

For Palmieri, that’s playing in top-six maybe even up on the top-line with Barzal (and dare I say Beauvillier on the left-wing), and have him be the trigger man. Set him up and let his shot work.

The Islanders need to learn how to adapt to the players they’ve acquired in order to succeed. It’s never been clearer.

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