The NY Islanders have improved and declined at the same time this season. The team has seen an immense improvement on offense, now with 4 players having 30 or more points just 34 games into the season. This is in part due to the powerplay turning from their biggest weakness to adequate. The Islanders have also performed much better in the faceoff circle now having Bo Horvat's career 53.8%-win total on the top line.
The glaring hole on the Islanders is their defensive performance. This became the team’s strength during the Barry Trotz era after a disastrous defensive showing in 2017-18 that cost them a playoff spot. With the offense playing well in 2023-24, the Islanders must not revert back to the pre-Trotz era and allow poor defense to cost them the playoffs. Especially not with a talented goaltending tandem in Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov who have shown fatigue in recent games. With this being said, what is a realistic option for the Islanders before the trade deadline?
Robin Salo is quietly having a good season in Bridgeport.
This young defenseman has been forgotten about as a prospect. Drafted out of Finland in the 4th round of the 2017 draft, Robin Salo is showing positive improvements for the Bridgeport Islanders. Through 27 AHL games, Salo has 4 goals and 6 assists through 27 games. He has been playing on Bridgeport's top powerplay unit and recently scored a game winning goal in overtime against the Charlotte Checkers.
Salo has not had a long track record in the NHL. In his rookie season of 2021-22, Salo appeared in 21 games recording 5 points and 23 blocked shots. Though his numbers did not stand out, his intangible performance impressive enough to be considered the favorite to play on the bottom pairing with Scott Mayfield prior to the 2022-23 season. However, Salo lost that spot to Sebastian Aho during training camp. He played just 11 games early last season for the Islanders with 2 goals and 2 assists. Due to injury, Salo only played 38 games for Bridgeport before returning to training camp this past summer.
With the Islanders struggles on defense, Salo is an option to try out while Adam Pelech, Ryan Pulock, and Mayfield are still on injured reserve. Recently, the front office sent Grant Hutton back to Bridgeport in favor of goaltender Ken Appleby while Varlamov rests for "maintenance". Once Varlamov is no longer considered day-to-day, a 7th defenseman will be recalled.
Since Hutton has only appeared in 2 games this season, Salo should get an opportunity on the bottom pairing with Robert Bortuzzo. While improvements have been made, Samuel Bolduc has continued to show deficiencies on defense, particularly turning the puck over at the blue line. Bortuzzo is a veteran that can help Salo acclimate to the NHL level while the Islanders await the return of their top defensemen. After their recent performance against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Islanders must search for new opportunities to stay competitive against the upper echelon of the NHL.