It’s not quite the infamous “Dog Days of Summer” that Major League Baseball teams slog through in August, but in this shortened, yet condensed, schedule for the NHL, teams are hitting the proverbial wall as April drags on.
Sunday evening in Philadelphia, the Islanders were far from perfect in their 1-0 overtime victory over the Flyers at Wells Fargo Center; with the exception of goaltender Ilya Sorokin who was unbeatable as he pitched his third shutout of the season.
While a win is a win and the Islanders will gladly take the two-points to move back ahead of Pittsburgh into second-place in the MassMutual Division, there is no denying things are not alright for the Boys from Long Island.
Strong goaltending has become a hallmark of the Islanders and it’s been extra important in the month of April as the team’s scoring has dried up. In 15 March games, the Isles averaged 3.33 goals per game while compiling a record of 11-4-0. But in April, that goal-scoring has dropped off by a full goal per game less (2.33). It may be nine games as opposed to 15 but it is still worrisome that the Nassaumen are having so much trouble putting the puck in the back of the net.
Perhaps the Isles are just hitting a wall and they’ll bounce back come playoff time? They went through a similar swoon last season at this time of year. The difference was though, they had a couple of months to re-energize as the NHL went on hiatus due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. There is no such extended break coming this time around.
With the Boys from Long Island scoring at a lower rate (2.33 goals/game vs. 3.33 goals/game) the defense and goaltending has had a much more narrow margin of error. The team’s record is still good — 6-3-0 in April — but it is asking a lot of Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin to have to be damn near perfect on a nightly basis. Eventually, somebody is going to crack under the strain and when they do the results won’t be pretty; unless of course the Nassaumen can rediscover their scoring touch.
Beyond their scoring-drought, the team needs to find a way to get off to a faster start in games as their last handful of matches have seen them outplayed in the opening period and Sunday night against the Flyers was no different. The Flyers outshot the Isles eight-to-four in the first period; with the Isles not registering a shot on goal until the 10:12 mark of the period. That’s not winning hockey.
Lucky for the Islanders that Philadelphia wasn’t much better at generating offense, although the Flyers certainly had better quality chances and forced Sorokin to make several above-average saves in order to keep his team in the game.
After the game, Head Coach Barry Trotz praised the play of Sorokin in that difficult first period: “We don’t win that hockey game if he doesn’t have the first period that he did.”
On to the second period and it was more of the same, only this time the Isles were outshot 15-9. Again, Sorokin was forced to bail out his teammates as they not only didn’t deliver on offense but also coughed up the puck several times, which allowed the Flyers to accumulate quite a few odd-man rushes.
The official score sheet credits Mathew Barzal with only one giveaway in the game, however, that’s being highly generous as Barzal was among the guiltiest culprits in fumbling the puck over to the Flyers. (As a thanks for bailing them out so much, Barzal and his teammates should be treating Sorokin to a seven-course, five-star meal wherever the young goalie wants).
To the third period they went and for the first time all night the Islanders actually outshot the Flyers; by a tally of 13-6. Now, that number may have been somewhat inflated by the Isles two power-play opportunities; although neither was successfully cashed in as the team’s man-advantage units continue to slump. (The Isles power-play is 19-for-114 on the season and 3-for-its-last-34).
Prior to the game, Head Coach Barry Trotz spoke to the media about the Isles power-play woes: “It’s got to be an element that doesn’t lose us games. Maybe it can win us games. But, at least, keep us even in games.”
Sorry to break the news to you but I’m certain that going 0-for-2 in the third period was not what Trotz had in mind.
Now for overtime.
Not much happened during the opening couple of shifts but that changed at the 2:23 mark of the extra period.
J.G. Pageau held the puck in the neutral zone as Nick Leddy jumped onto the ice untouched. He fired the puck to a streaking Leddy, who was charging hard down the right-side. Leddy’s shot deflected off Travis Sanheim’s stick and trickled under Brian Elliott’s pad for the game-winning goal.
Nick Leddy later acknowledged how lucky he and the Islanders were to win the game on his shot by saying: “It ended up a nice lucky bounce through Elliott’s legs.”
It wasn’t pretty and I doubt it’s how the Islanders drew things up but they’ll take the two points and now turn their attention to the Rangers who come to Nassau Coliseum Tuesday night.
The Isles went 0-for-2 on the power-play to bring their season tally to 19-for-114 and are now 3-for-their-last-34 on the power-play…The Islanders won five of the eight games they played against the Flyers this season, with six of the eight going beyond regulation…Nick Leddy scored the game-winning goal, even though the Flyers’ Travis Sanheim was the last person to touch the puck…Braydon Coburn played his first game as a member of the Islanders in place of Noah Dobson who was taken out of the lineup after a couple rough performances.
Tuesday April 20th Islanders vs Rangers at Nassau Coliseum at 7pm(EST).