The New York Islanders had their four-game win streak snapped by the Philadelphia Flyers in a 3-1 loss on Nov. 29, and looked unengaged and uninspired after the fisticuffs to begin the game. It’s been a similar story all season long for the Islanders who, despite their record and place in the standings, have put together poor performances on most nights. In addition, head coach Lane Lambert had his hands tied with roster decisions as Josh Bailey and Kyle Palmieri were unavailable due to injury. Then he had to shorten his bench even more when Cal Clutterbuck left the game with an injury. Unable to put out his identity line to spark the team, Lambert did what he could to no avail. All of this added up to the two main reasons the Islanders had their win streak snapped by the Flyers earlier this week – mounting injuries and continued mistakes.
Islanders’ Injuries Adding Up
Before learning about Josh Bailey’s last-minute injury, Lambert’s lineup decision to add Ross Johnston was a curious one. Was it more important to win the toughness battle, or win the game? It appeared, at least at first, that Lambert was concerned with the former. And it worked out, as Johnston and Matt Martin both fought in the opening seconds of the game after tensions boiled over when the two teams met on Nov. 26. However, we later found out that the decision was out of his hands. Bailey was unavailable after warmups, according to Lambert, and with Palmieri out, there weren’t a lot of options left for the first-year head coach.
Whether you like Kieffer Bellows or Nikita Soshnikov or not, they are both better options than Johnston on most nights. However, general manager Lou Lamoriello appears to be playing the long game with the Islanders’ roster, giving himself room to add a player between now and the NHL trade deadline on March 3, both in terms of salary cap availability and roster spots. Simon Holmstrom, who played in just his fourth game on Monday against the Flyers and is still getting his sea legs, gives Lamoriello flexibility since he’s exempt from waivers.
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The takeaway? The Islanders are just an injury or two away from having no choice but to ice a lineup like this. Lambert appears comfortable shortening the bench even with Palmieri and Bailey available by double shifting Mathew Barzal and loading up an occasional line with Barzal, Anders Lee, and Brock Nelson. But on nights like this, Lambert has no choice; Johnston has no business being on the ice when the team is chasing a game, whether he’s playing alongside Casey Cizikas and Martin or not.
Martin and Johnston are redundant, and to have two players with similar attributes doesn’t give that fourth line the same punch. Since Clutterbuck also went down with an injury during the game, once again, Lambert wasn’t left with much of a choice. If Palmieri, Clutterbuck, and Bailey remain out of the lineup for even the next game, Lamoriello may be forced to call up another player, or even two considering Johnston’s lack of versatility.
Islanders’ Mistakes Continue
Martin said it best after the game on Monday. “[We] struggled to break out, struggled to sustain pressure and struggled to hold onto the puck. I don’t love our chances to win a game when you struggle in all those areas.” (from “Islanders’ four-game win streak snapped in fight-filled loss to Flyers,” New York Post, 11/29/2022) Frankly, this has been how most of the season has been for the Islanders, and it was an awful look considering the Flyers were in the midst of a 10-game losing streak. Outside of their comeback victories and 10 or so minutes of energetic play to get back into those games, on most nights fans have seen a sloppy team just fumbling their way through a game. Rarely are they seeing the Islanders dominate or play a full 60 minutes of good hockey.
The shorthanded goal they allowed against the Flyers was a prime example of lackadaisical play and a serious lack of focus. The Islanders allowed the Flyers to break out of their zone cleanly while a man down and, on the way back, not pick up a player. On the 3-on-3 play, Anthony Beauvillier was in a position to lock up the trailer on the play, Travis Sanheim. Instead, he elected to turn away from Sanheim, leaving him all alone to find the loose puck. Oliver Wahlstrom also stopped off to the left side of Ilya Sorokin and didn’t step up on Sanheim, leaving him fully unimpeded in the slot. This type of play has been happening all season, specifically by players in their own zone.
The Islanders have an opportunity to collect themselves with two days off before their next matchup with the Nashville Predators on Friday evening to kick off their December schedule. They’ll be aiming for a better performance against the Predators to make sure they don’t replicate their 5-4 loss to them on Nov. 17, and will hopefully have one or both of Bailey and Palmieri back in the lineup. Until we learn more, eyes and ears will be focused on Lamoriello as a call-up may be necessary before Friday.
Jon Zella is a 31-year-old, Long Island native currently living in Syracuse, NY. Outside of hockey, he enjoys motorcycles, beer, coffee, and his dog Olive.