Hockey

NY ISLANDERS: First-Half Season Grades / Islanders See 9-Game Win Streak and 12-Game Points Streak Snapped in 3-1 Loss to Capitals Tuesday Night at Capital One Arena By Matt Blittner, The New York Extra/TheNYExtra.com

It’s that time of year again, even if it hasn’t been a normal one. With 30 of 56 games for the Islanders now in the books, it’s time for everybody’s favorite activity; grading the first-half performances of the Isles’ players, Head Coach and General Manager.

(Stats and grades are updated through Tuesday night’s 3-1 loss to the Capitals at Capital One Arena).

So, without any further ado, let’s dive right in.

Mathew Barzal (Center, Age: 23, Stats: 30-GP, 9-G, 15-A, 24-P, +/- 14, 32-PIM)

Grade: A

Summary: The Isles number one center has dazzled the hockey world on multiple occasions with his highlight reel goals this season, but it’s not just his goal-scoring that has this writer impressed. Barzal, long known for his offensive prowess, has taken a big step forward on the defensive end of the ice. He’s nowhere close to winning the Selke Trophy, however, there’s no denying Barzal has smartly used his speed to close the gaps when getting back on defense and forcing the opposition to change their attack plans. The only thing keeping him from an A+ grade is his rather high amount of penalty minutes; which drove Barry Trotz nuts at the beginning of the season and reared its head against the Capitals Tuesday night, during which he was benched for roughly the first 8:30 of the third period.

Anders Lee (LW, Age: 30, Stats: 27-GP, 12-G, 7-A, 19-P, +/- 11, 12-PIM)

Grade: A

Summary: The Isles Captain was having a terrific bounce-back year before tearing his ACL (in his right knee) against the Devils on Thursday March 11th. Lee was constantly a presence in front of the opposition’s net and was well ahead of last year’s goal-scoring pace (20 goals in 68 games) when he suffered his injury. The Nassaumen placed him on LTIR on Sunday March 14th and on Wednesday morning March 17th, GM Lou Lamoriello addressed the media to confirm Lee would have surgery to repair his ACL and would be out for the rest of the regular season and playoffs. Although, since the doctors say there’s nothing else damaged in his knee, the Isles expect him to recover and be ready for next season; which is a sliver of good news.

Jordan Eberle (RW, Age: 30, Stats: 27-GP, 9-G, 10-A, 19-P, +/- 8, 8-PIM)

Grade: A-

Summary: Eberle, usually good for a slow scoring start, actually started strong with five-goals in his first 10-games this season; which was a welcome change from years past. Eberle has displayed a lethal backhand shot this season and has lengthened the Isles’ lineup by performing at a high level even without being on Barzal’s wing; meaning Coach Trotz has been able to roll multiple scoring lines against the opposition without having to sacrifice balance. 

Nick Leddy (D, Age: 29, Stats: 30-GP, 1-G, 17-A, 18-P, +/- 0, 2-PIM)

Grade: B+

Summary: If the off-season rumors are true, there was no guarantee Leddy would even be on the Isles’ roster this season as GM Lou Lamoriello desperately searched for much needed cap space. That being said, Leddy leads the team with 17-assists and has been a steady second-pair defenseman for the Isles this season, providing a veteran presence on what is a mostly young blue-line. (Leddy is the second-oldest defensemen on the team, behind only Andy Greene, who is 38). He and usual D-partner Scott Mayfield have been on the ice for more defensive breakdowns than either of Trotz’s other pairs, but they are still a fairly reliable set.

Brock Nelson (Center, Age: 29, Stats: 30-GP, 12-G, 5-A, 17-P, +/- -5, 8-PIM)

Grade: B+

Summary: “Mr. Power-Play Goal” leads the team with six-goals on the man-advantage — double the total of the next best on the team (Lee and J.G. Pageau each has three such goals.) His presence as the second-line pivot has been crucial for the Isles’ balanced attack and his chemistry with Eberle is a big part of that. With 12-goals through 30-games, Nelson is on pace for one of the better goal-scoring years of his career. He also has taken the second most face-offs on the team and has the third-highest winning percentage at 50.6%. And remember, the key to scoring starts with winning face-offs.

J.G. Pageau (Center, Age: 28, Stats: 29-GP, 9-G, 8-A, 17-P, +/- 5, 6-PIM)

Grade: A-

Summary: Last season’s massive trade deadline acquisition has been a force on the third-line for the Isles this year. And his performance on the penalty-kill has been outstanding; with several momentum changing breakaways and the team’s only two short-handed goals. Pageau’s clutch gene has also shown through with a team-high tying three game-winning goals so far this season. He has also taken the most face-offs on the team, won the most and has the highest face-off winning percentage at 56.6%.

Josh Bailey (RW, Age: 31, Stats: 30-GP, 3-G, 12-A, 15-P, +/- 4, 2-PIM)

Grade: B-

Summary: The longest-tenured Isles player on the roster, Bailey started the year off slow in the offensive department and hasn’t quite recovered as the season has progressed. Bailey is on pace for his lowest points output in five-years. But what he lacks on offense, Bailey has somewhat made up for with his solid, if unspectacular defense. It’s possible, with the Seattle Expansion Draft coming this summer, that this is Bailey’s swan song with the only franchise he’s ever called home. If that ends up being the case, this will become a situation where you don’t appreciate what you’ve got until it’s gone. 

Noah Dobson (D, Age: 21, Stats: 28-GP, 3-G, 9-A, 12-P, +/- 6, 4-PIM)

Grade: B+

Summary: The neophyte defenseman has quickly grown into a reliable, everyday defenseman in the NHL. Yes, there have been some growing pains. But Dobson’s positives far outweigh his negatives. The kid has already shown he’s a natural when it comes to playing the point on the power-play and as he develops and learns the league, he’ll only get better; both on offense and defense. He has missed the Isles last two games while on the NHL’s COVID list and we hope he can return, with no ill effects, soon.

Ryan Pulock (D, Age: 26, Stats: 30-GP, 0-G, 12-A, 12-P, +/- 10, 4-PIM)

Grade: B

Summary: Pulock, without a doubt, is the Isles number one defenseman and possesses a rocket of a shot. So, it’s surprising that through 30 games he’s yet to score a goal, although he has bruised several crossbars and posts in search of his first marker of the year. Pulock’s lack of goals aside, this is a defenseman who has undoubtedly grown into his top-pairing assignment.

Casey Cizikas (Center, Age: 29, Stats: 30-GP, 4-G, 7-A, 11-P, +/- 3, 17-PIM)

Grade: B

Summary: The second-longest tenured player on the team, Cizikas has remained the pivot for the Identity Line and has continued to excel in whatever role the team asks him to fill. The fact the Identity Line has been as successful as it has been, even without fans in attendance for the most part, is a testament to the work ethic of all three members and especially Cizikas.

Oliver Wahlstrom (RW, Age: 20, Stats: 23-GP, 6-G, 5-A, 11-P, +/- 4, 8-PIM)

Grade: B+

Summary: Rookie puck wizard Oliver Wahlstrom started slow in the goal-scoring department and perhaps took a little longer to stick in the NHL than most would have thought when he was drafted back in 2018. However, his last handful of games has really put his growth as an overall hockey player on display and his ice-time has risen correspondingly. What was once a wide-open third-line left-wing spot has since been seized and secured by Wahlstrom and the sky is truly the limit for this kid.

Matt Martin (LW, Age: 31, Stats: 30-GP, 5-G, 4-A, 9-P, +/- 4, 16-PIM)

Grade: B+

Summary: Where did the goal-scoring come from? For a guy who has only ever scored double-digit goals in a season once, Martin’s hot-hand has been a surprising and welcome revelation this season. And there’ve been some really beautiful ones too. (Check out his two-goal game against the Sabres on March 4th of this season). Along with his goal-scoring, Martin also leads the team in blocks — no surprise there — and has continued to be one of the engines of the team.

Cal Clutterbuck (RW, Age: 33, Stats: 28-GP, 3-G, 5-A, 8-P, +/- 0, 2-PIM)

Grade: B

Summary: Rounding out the Isles’ Identity Line is Clutterbuck, who has brought his usual brand of grittiness to the team and is as steady as they come this season. If there’s one drawback to Clutterbuck, it’s that he normally has issues with injuries, but so far this year, he’s been a consistent presence in the lineup (knock on wood that continues). 

Scott Mayfield (D, Age: 28, Stats: 30-GP, 2-G, 6-A, 8-P, +/- -3, 24-PIM)

Grade: B-

Summary: Leddy’s D-partner has not been the sharpest defensemen this year for the Isles. His minus-three plus-minus rating is the second-worst on the team. Yes, it’s a flawed stat, but it’s still significant that he’s been on for more goals against than he’s been on for goals for. Balancing that out is the fact he leads all Isles defensemen in blocked shots, but that’s a double edged sword as his blocks will occasionally take him out of position and prevent him from getting back in the play.

Adam Pelech (D, Age: 26, Stats: 30-GP, 2-G, 6-A, 8-P, +/- 12, 18-PIM)

Grade: B-

Summary: The Robin to Pulock’s Batman, Pelech has been steady, if unspectacular, for the Isles this season. His presence and ability do allow Pulock to join the rush more, which is a positive for the Islanders. Overall, his ability to box out defenders has helped him ascend to the top D-pair on the team. 

Anthony Beauvillier (LW, Age: 23, Stats: 21-GP, 2-G, 4-A, 6-P, +/- 5, 6-PIM)

Grade: C+

Summary: Beauvillier got off to a slow start this year, then missed nine-games with a lower-body injury, before returning on February 16th against the Sabres. He has netted just five-points in 15 games since returning and if the team is to achieve its goal of winning the Stanley Cup, Beauvillier is going to need to step up his game. Good thing he has time to round back into form.

Kieffer Bellows (LW, Age: 22, Stats: 11-GP, 3-G, 0-A, 3-P, +/- 1, 2-PIM)

Grade: C+

Summary: Prior to his re-insertion into the Islanders lineup for their game against the Devils on Saturday March 13th — in place of the injured Anders Lee — Bellows’ grade would have been much lower. However, two straight strong games, with three-goals scored, including a game-tying goal and game-winning goal in his first game back in the lineup, boost his grade and have him riding high. Perhaps he can develop into the lineup fixture many thought he would one day become? Time will tell. He’s certainly doing his best to try and replicate Lee’s game by consistently parking himself in front of the opposing goalies and going to the dirty areas of the ice.

Michael Dal Colle (LW, Age: 24, Stats: 16-GP, 0-G, 2-A, 2-P, +/- 1, 2-PIM)

Grade: C-

Summary: Effort will only take you so far in the NHL. At some point, you need to produce and Dal Colle has not done that. He doesn’t draw into the lineup often and with Bellows’ current mini hot-streak, it’s possible Dal Colle will drop even further in the depth chart.

Andy Greene (D, Age: 38, Stats: 30-GP, 0-G, 2-A, 2-P, +/- 7, 4-PIM)

Grade: B-

Summary: This veteran defenseman has been a key mentor in the development of rookie Noah Dobson and that alone nets him a decent grade. But it’s more than just mentorship Greene provides, as he is still a reliable third-pairing blue-liner as he chases that elusive Stanley Cup.

Leo Komarov (Center, Age: 34, Stats: 14-GP, 0-G, 2-A, 2-P, +/- 0, 5-PIM)

Grade: C-

Summary: “Uncle Leo” draws into the lineup every now and again and doesn’t provide much of a spark when he’s in there. Coupled with his subpar defensive skills, Komarov’s days with the Islanders would likely be numbered if not for his modified no-trade clause. Even then, Komarov could find himself on the move in some fashion if Lamoriello can work some magic.

Semyon Varlamov (G, Age: 32, Stats: 21-GP, 13-5-3, .926SV%, 2.08-GAA, 3-SO)

Grade: A

Summary: Coming into the season there was some debate as to how much Varlamov would play with Sorokin finally coming over from Russia. However, an Opening Night shutout against the Rangers got him off to a hot start and the veteran netminder hasn’t looked back; enjoying his best statistical season since leading the NHL in wins, with 41 for the 2013-14 Colorado Avalanche. Don’t be surprised if at the end of this season, Varlamov garners some Vezina votes; even if he is a longshot to actually take home the award.

Ilya Sorokin (G, Age: 25, Stats: 9-GP, 6-2-1, .910SV%, 2.20-GAA, 2-SO)

Grade: B+

Summary: The Isles’ long-awaited Russian netminder came over to the U.S. to much fanfare and has been brilliant in his nine starts; recording two-shutouts and re-writing the Isles’ franchise goaltending record book for rookies. Currently, Sorokin has won six-straight starts; something no other Isles rookie goalie has ever done. The only issue is the occasional “soft” goal he gives up; but with time and some seasoning, that “deficiency” will disappear.

Black Aces 

Sebastian Aho (D), Austin Czarnik (C), Ross Johnston (LW) and Dmytro Timashov (LW)

Cumulative Grade: D

Cumulative Summary: Whether it’s the lack of quality depth options or Trotz’s preference to stick with a set lineup, the Isles’ “Black Aces” don’t often see playing time and when they do it’s usually only one-game at a time. However, Aho has drawn into the lineup for the last two games with Dobson on the NHL’s COVID List and has performed reasonably well in limited ice-time.

Head Coach

Barry Trotz (Team Record: 19-7-4)

Grade: A+

Summary: What can be written and said about Trotz that hasn’t already been covered? He continues to climb the NHL’s all-time career wins list for Head Coaches and if he retired right now, he’d be an instant Hall of Famer. Luck for the Isles and their fans, Trotz has given no indication the finish line is anywhere close in regards to his career. But there is one finish line he is chasing and that’s delivering the Isles’ first Stanley Cup since 1983. A Conference Finals appearance last season and a current favorite to make another deep playoff run, Trotz has the Islanders well positioned to go all the way.

Management

Lou Lamoriello (General Manager)

Grade: A

Summary: Who do you think built the roster Trotz has been leading? Lamoriello of course. The twilight of Lamoriello’s career is far closer than Trotz’s is and if there’s any one thing Lou wants more than anything else, it’s a fourth Stanley Cup. And you can be sure Lamoriello is working the phone every single day as he attempts to navigate this most unusual of seasons in order to upgrade the Islanders’ roster.

As for the game against the Capitals, the Islanders saw their 9-game win-streak and 12-game points-streak snapped courtesy of a 3-1 loss that saw them get off to a fast start in the first period but waste several opportunities to take the lead and were eventually done in by their mistakes. If not for the strong play of Ilya Samsonov, the Isles likely would have netted a goal or two in the opening period. However, Samsonov stood tall and the score was 0-0 after 20-minutes.

10:36 into the second period, Oliver Wahlstrom fell down in the Caps’ zone, Alex Ovechkin led the charge up the ice 3-on-1 and after Evgeny Kuznetsov’s shot went off the post, T.J. Oshie finished up the play by tapping home the loose puck and giving the Capitals a 1-0 lead. On the play, Ovechkin earned the secondary assist, which was the 1,300th point of his NHL career.

Just under five-minutes later, with Barzal in the penalty box after a careless cross-checking penalty, Ovechkin scored from his office to put the Capitals up 2-0 and snuff out what little life the Islanders may have had. 

Barzal’s bad penalty and sloppy play in the second period led to Barry Trotz benching him for the first 8:14 of the third period as Trotz attempted to send a message to his star player. 

After the game, Trotz explained his method as: “It absolutely is sending a message. He leads our team in penalties and he can’t be doing that.

Scott Mayfield also did the Isles no favors as he was assessed a roughing penalty at the end of the second period for getting tangled up with Richard Panik. It was a questionable call to some, but what mattered most was the Isles started the third period on the penalty-kill and Nicklas Backstrom promptly scored 28-seconds into the period, essentially putting the game out of reach at 3-0 with under 20-minutes to play.

Wahlstrom got one back 3:49 later when he converted on the Isles power-play to bring the visitors within 3-1 but that’s as close as they got.

A puck battle along the far boards led to the puck bouncing out to Wahlstrom, who danced into the slot and whipped the biscuit past Samsonov for the power-play goal. It wasn’t enough though and the story of the game ended up being missed chances early leading to sloppiness late.

The 3-1 loss broke the Islanders 9-game win streak and 12-game points streak; allowing the Capitals to tie the Islanders for first place in the Eastern (MassMutual) Division. 

GAME NOTES:

The Isles went 1-for-2 on the power-play to bring their season tally to 16-for-76…The Islanders nine-game win streak and 12-game points streak were snapped…The Isles penalty-kill went 2-for-4 on the night and have allowed five power-play goals on nine power-play chances to the Capitals this season.

NEXT GAME:

Thursday March 18th Islanders vs Flyers at Nassau Coliseum at 7pm(EST).

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