The NY Islanders and their fans have every reason to lose confidence in the 2023-24 season. The team's recent three-game losing streak, coupled with multiple third-period meltdowns, have found themselves placed 6th in the Metropolitan Division. We have seen games that give us hope, such as defeating John Tavares and the Toronto Maple Leafs twice at home. We have had heartbreak like losing with seven seconds left in regulation to the Nashville Predators. We have even seen this team look lifeless, such as being shut out by the Minnesota Wild. In sum, this season has been a rollercoaster of emotions.
The Islanders of the past decade have given indicators of whether the team can succeed or not by the All-Star break. Between 2019 and 2021, the team was always in the mix for winning the division, without question of clinching a playoff berth. The team was also far behind in the standings at this time in 2017 and 2022, letting fans know this is not our year. Only 2018 feels similar, where the Islanders were scoring well but failed to defend well enough in front of Jaroslav Halak. Taking all factors into consideration, why should fans feel concerned this season is over, and why should we still have optimism?
1st reason to be concerned: The lack of adjustments.
The Islanders have taken steps forward in correcting their weaknesses from last season. For instance, the team has improved its powerplay percentage from an anemic 15.8% to 23.1%, which is now better than the league average. They also have taken fewer penalty minutes per game this season at seven, compared to eight last season. In other words, the focus throughout training camp was improving their special teams unit and playing more disciplined hockey.
However, the team has taken a devastating step back in numerous areas. Through 44 games, the Isles’ penalty kill has given up 37 goals after allowing 39 all last season. This was a common theme in October and November when the team’s struggles on the PK were on the road. This problem has not only gone unaddressed but has been exacerbated. The PK has given up eight goals in the last eight games, including the game-decider against the Colorado Avalanche in overtime. To make matters worse, a mainstay on the PK unit, Casey Cizikas, has been sidelined, forcing Bo Horvat to play an unfamiliar role. For Lane Lambert and the coaching staff, this problem should have been easy to correct, considering the PK was a strength in 2022-23.
Another adjustment that has not been addressed is defensive pressure at the blue line. Butch Goring makes the point every night that the Isles are allowing easy zone entrees to the opponent without making attempts to create turnovers. This has also been noticed on the PK, where the forwards are not spreading the perimeter and just waiting to block a shot. The collateral effect of this has been less offensive-zone time and more shots on Ilya Sorokin, which results in losing hockey games. This area is a strength from the Barry Trotz era that needs to be revived.