The NHL season has finally begun, but it’s not going as well as the New York Islanders, and their fans, expected. At the beginning of the year, the Isles were thought to be Stanley Cup contenders in the same conversation as Colorado, Vegas, and Tampa. Instead, they’ve gotten only 3 points in 4 games.
Should fans be worried? I understand the concern. We all wanted the Isles to play like contenders immediately, and they haven’t been. But here’s why it’s way too early to start worrying.
1. This has happened before
Barry Trotz’s Islanders are no strangers to slow starts. In his first year as coach, the Isles started 2-3-0 for 4 points in their first 5 games. The next year, they started 1-3-1 for 3 points in 5 games. And last season, they started 3-2-0 for 6 points in 5 games.
This year’s Islanders will have between 3 and 5 points in their first 5 games (depending on the outcome of tomorrow’s game at Arizona). That’s right in keeping with the first three years of Trotz’s time here. And remember, they made the playoffs (and won at least one playoff series!) in every single one of those seasons.
Why do Trotz’s Isles keep starting the season badly? It’s been speculated that it has to do with playing a defensive system – defensemen take longer to reach regular-season form, since most forwards don’t try particularly hard to score during preseason.
Whether you believe that explanation or not, it’s undeniable that slow starts are nothing new for Trotz and the Islanders – and every year so far, they’ve managed to overcome it.
2. Plenty of other contenders are starting slowly too
To hear the fans talk about it, you’d think the Islanders were the only team playing badly. But take a look around the NHL standings. As of today, here are some other weird outliers:
- Vegas has 2 points in 4 games
- Colorado has 2 points in 4 games
- Tampa Bay has 4 points in 4 games
- Montreal has 0 points (!!!) in 5 games
Every single team that was in the semifinals last year – plus Colorado for good measure, since everyone seems to agree they’re a contender – has started the season badly. Does that mean they’re bad teams? Of course not.
Maybe making a deep playoff run is tiring (it definitely is), or maybe there’s some other factor at work. But the Islanders are certainly not alone – plenty of cup contenders have been bad so far.
3. The Islanders’ schedule has been difficult
The three teams that the Islanders lost to – Florida, Carolina, and Columbus – are a combined 10-1-0, for 20 points in 11 games. Of course, you could argue that Columbus isn’t actually that good, and I’d have to agree, but they’re definitely playing well so far.
The Islanders have only played one team that’s doing badly (Chicago, 0-4-1), and they delivered with a 4-1 victory. Plus, every game so far has been on the road.
Of course, cup contenders should be able to beat good teams. But we should acknowledge that, combined with the factors I mentioned earlier, getting beaten by good teams on the road isn’t the worst thing in the world.
4. They haven’t played a single game at full strength
Even if you don’t count the nagging injury to Semyon Varlamov, the Islanders have been missing a skater in every single game. The first two games, they were without Matt Martin, then they lost Anders Lee, then JG Pageau, to a stomach bug.
Ross Johnston and Kieffer Bellows were not the only, or even the main, problems during the games they played. But they definitely didn’t help. Getting back to the regular lineup will definitely give the Islanders a much-needed boost.
5. There have been plenty of positives
I’ve heard people talking as if the Isles have been playing terribly, and they really haven’t (with the exception of the third period against Florida). There’s been plenty to like about their play so far:
- Oliver Wahlstrom has taken a big step up
- Noah Dobson looks like a legitimate puck-moving D and power play QB
- Mat Barzal remembered how to shoot the puck
- Zach Parise is playing well
- Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock continue to be incredible
- Anders Lee is back and looks as good as ever
- Ilya Sorokin has seemingly bounced back from his first two bad starts
Now, obviously, there’s some negatives as well (I have not mentioned a certain 44-year-old defenseman, but I’m confident there’ll be some angry comments about him). But we shouldn’t act as if every single player has been bad, because they absolutely haven’t.
6. It’s early!!
This is an obvious point, but it is worth repeating. It’s been four games. There are 78 more games to be played. I’ve already talked about how Colorado, Vegas, Tampa, and Montreal have started poorly. On that same topic, does anyone think Buffalo and San Jose are as good as their records (both 3-0-0 at the time I’m writing this)?? Of course not.
Don’t jump to conclusions from a 4-game stretch. The Islanders lost 5 games in a row at one point last season, and it didn’t matter in the end. 4 games is nothing.
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That’s all I have for today. Isles fans, stay calm, enjoy the hockey, and count down the days until UBS Arena opens (less than a month!) and we finally get to play a home game.