Islanders Weekly is my series that looks at the performance and outlook of the New York Islanders. Every Thursday, we will take a look at the week that was for the Islanders, highlighting key players and trends while looking at the road ahead.
Related: Last Week’s Islanders Weekly
The Islanders continued their first extended homestand of the season, playing three of four games this week on home ice. They hosted the Boston Bruins on Thursday, playing closely contested hockey for most of the first two periods. New York was able to overpower former goaltender Jaroslav Halak in the third period, resulting in a 7-2 victory. The Isles had a 3-2 lead over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday after two periods, but a quick Pens goal at the start of the third period forced overtime, and the Penguins prevailed.
On the second half of their back-to-back, the Islanders started Ilya Sorokin for the first time in 12 days, and the rookie goaltender produced his second straight shutout for the win. Special teams were producing against the Pens, with the team going 3-for-6 on the power-play over the two games and killing six of seven Pittsburgh power-plays. The Isles played their first game in front of fans this season on Tuesday in New Jersey. The game was scoreless through two periods but late goals from Oliver Wahlstrom and Anders Lee were enough to give New York another win. The Isles enter Thursday’s matchup with the Buffalo Sabres on a five-game point streak.
Pageau and Wahlstrom Meshing
New York’s third line with center Jean-Gabriel Pageau appears to finally have a mainstay winger in Oliver Wahlstrom. The rookie extended his point streak to five games with another goal against the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday. Over the five games, the former first-round pick scored three goals and added three assists including four power-play points. Pageau and Wahlstrom are developing great chemistry, including the duo combining on three of the team’s goals this week.
The two forwards have also found themselves playing together on the second power-play unit. Their increased chemistry has also elevated the play of struggling veterans Josh Bailey and Brock Nelson, who were in the midst of slumps prior to the hot streaks of Pageau and Wahlstrom. On Pageau’s other wing, Michael Dal Colle seems to have settled into that role when he’s not busy being injured. Dal Colle returned from another brief absence against Pittsburgh and maintained his usual spot for the last three games. The line has been performing quite well and looks poised to stay together as long as health doesn’t become a factor.
Special Teams Success
The Islanders are continuing to impress with the man advantage and while shorthanded. The power-play stayed hot with three goals this week, all of them coming in the two-game set against Pittsburgh. After spending the past few seasons as one of the worst teams in the NHL with the extra man, New York currently ranks in the top-12 in power-play percentage. They are making the most of these opportunities despite continuing to be awarded among the fewest power-plays in the league.
The shorthanded units have also come to play, killing all but one of the 13 power-play opportunities they allowed this past week. While much of this success has come from strong goaltending, the team is also blocking plenty of shots in front of its netminders. The Islanders blocked at least 15 shots in two different games this week, with four of the 16 blocks against the Devils coming from a forward in Pageau. Contributions are coming from the entire lineup, especially shorthanded, and have helped the team rapidly climb the standings.
Another Sorokin Shutout
After earning his first NHL win in shutout fashion, Sorokin has found himself on the bench more often than not of late. He got the nod on Sunday, the second game in as many nights against the Penguins. The rookie goaltender delivered again, with his second 20-save shutout in as many appearances. He seems to be impressing everyone, coach Barry Trotz included, who admitted to considering starting Sorokin against the Devils on Tuesday (from ‘Islanders coach Barry Trotz not yet ready to give goalie Ilya Sorokin consecutive starts’, Newsday, 03/02/2021). The Islanders instead turned to the veteran Semyon Varlamov, who came mere seconds from giving the team back-to-back shutout victories.
Sorokin’s impressive rebound from a rocky start to the season should bode well for him going forward, especially given the condensed nature of the team’s schedule over the next two months. Both he and Varlamov have played well, and with the team firmly in the playoff race, Trotz and Company should be planning on keeping Varlamov fresh to anchor another deep run. No matter who starts next, the Isles believe they have a chance to win every game with their dynamic duo.
Top Performers and the Week Ahead
- Oliver Wahlstrom: 3 goals, 2 assists
- Nick Leddy: 5 assists
- Anders Lee: 2 goals, 2 assists
The Week Ahead
- 3/4: vs Buffalo Sabres
- 3/6: vs Buffalo Sabres
- 3/7: vs Buffalo Sabres
- 3/9: at Boston Bruins
*All stats came from Hockey-Reference