Consecutive Eastern Conference Finals appearances, a new arena, and what appeared to be a normal 2021-22 season had New York Islanders fans, the organization, and NHL experts predicting big things for the boys in orange and blue. However, a number of factors contributed to what has amounted to be a frustrating season.
The Hall of Fame will call former Islander’s General Manager, Lou Lamoriello, decides to leave the game. However, his legacy has taken a hit as his final ten seasons with the New Jersey Devils put the organization in a bind, his brief three-year GM tenure with the Toronto Maple Leafs placed them in cap crunch peril, and his current run as NYI GM started well but has quickly dipped.
With a team lacking youth, the Islanders began the season as the oldest team in the league, Lou decided to double down in adding more older players. He signed 37-year-old winger, Zach Parise, and soon-to-be 45-year-old defenseman, Zdeno Chara this off-season. Granted both deals didn’t break the bank but they didn’t provide much on the ice either. Parise was a gamer with a back injury history whose game has been declining for years. Chara was a stalwart for the Boston Bruins before playing with the Washington Capitals last season and it was evident he was unable to keep up with the speed of the game. These two moves were made with winning the Stanley Cup in mind. They were not going to be heavily relied on during the regular season. Chara and 39 year old Andy Greene have been thrust into playing more than their bodies can handle. Rock-solid defenseman Ryan Pulock‘s return from injury has decreased the burden on the cagey vets, the damage has been done. Far too often they were relied on for heavy minutes without being able to handle the task.
Early Season Schedule
The Islanders knew they were spending their first 13 games on the road as the finishing touches on UBS Arena were completed. They started poorly, losing to the Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers, then somehow beat the Chicago Blackhawks while being dominated. With that being said, a win is a win and it appeared that they were able to right the ship with three shutouts in the next five games. After nine games the Islanders were doing well with five regulation wins and two overtime/shootout losses. Things were looking up for the Isles with three games left followed by some home cooking, but a loss to the Minnesota Wild began a string of 8 straight regulation losses. The last three of the road trip, their home opener vs the Calgary Flames, former Islanders captain, John Tavares‘ Maple Leafs, and hated rival, the New York Rangers. This put them in a huge hole compounded by a series of circumstances only Nostradamus could foresee.
NHL Covid protocols smacked the Islanders around as they competed against NHL teams while they fielded a roster of half NHL players and half AHL players. This greatly contributed to the losing streak and put them in extreme catch up mode because the rest of the Eastern Conference teams were gobbling up points like Pac-Man eating dots. It was a fluid situation as the league and teams were learning on the fly forcing the Islanders to play massively shorthanded. More teams began to experience similar situations and the league decided to postpone games, leaving Islander fans and the organization frustrated because they had to play their games with a over matched roster. Compounding the situation, Canadian teams were canceling games due to government restrictions and the prospect of playing games without fans. This altered the Islanders’ schedule forcing them to make up games on various off days.
Team Speed and Underperforming Players
Outside of Mathew Barzal, Anthony Beauvillier, Noah Dobson and Jean-Gabriel Pageau, the Islanders are a predominantly mediocre-to-slow team. Parise is a shell of himself. All the while, Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, Casey Cizikas, and Cal Clutterbuck are average to above average in the speed department. The lack of team speed and players performing below average have crippled the Islanders’ season. Beauvillier, Kyle Palmieri, Lee, Parise, Pageau, and Josh Bailey are underwhelming, to say the least. Goaltending has been fine, both Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov have kept the team in games. The lack of timely saves is compounded by the fact they are getting nothing from the aforementioned contingent of underperformers.
The Islanders are experiencing a Murphy’s Law season; anything that can go wrong will go wrong. An aging team, underperforming players, Covid decimated squad, relying on vets over kids, and a shuffled schedule has prevented the team from obtaining any rhythm. Athletes are creatures of habit, thriving on a routine to keep them in a grove and this season has thrown a huge monkey wrench into everything. They have 32 games left to make up 17 points to catch Boston for the final playoff spot. It is an extremely tall order in a lost season and season of losses.
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