After a summer of hopes fueled by playoffs success, the New York Islanders’ opening weeks of the 2019-2020 season were disappointing. Heavily disappointing with a side of anxiety-inducing. But it’s only October.
So, the Isles opened the season with a 2-3-0 record… Did anyone wake them when September ended?
The 4-1 win over Winnipeg was nice, and the 3-2 shoot-out win over Florida was a relief, but the other three games to start the season were not pretty. The defense that set League records just last season allowed 15 goals in 5 games, and the team only scored 9 goals in response. Coach Trotz has commented that the Islanders have more or less lost their identity.
“I think they’ve gotten away from their identity a little bit, to be honest,” he told Newsday before the game in Carolina. “We’re not what we think we are. Let’s get back to what we can be.”
Coming back after the miraculous 2018-19 season (and the sudden end of it) must be hard. The team wants to jump right back into the fray just as much as the fans want them to. But rust is always a factor in the opening weeks, and despite the poor performances, there have been bright spots.
For one, all of the Islanders’ losses have come to good teams. Edmonton and Carolina have both started the season without a single loss, which makes the 5-2 deficit to each team bearable. Washington, too, is always a good team and a tough game. Beginning the season with a rivalry game is intense, particularly when the rival already had a game to shake its rust off.
Another bright spot is Anthony Beauvillier’s hot start with two goals and two assists in three games. The fast, crafty skater who never puts up high stats looked hungry in the first week of the season. He was also one of the few players who even looked awake in the messy game against Edmonton. Hopefully, he’s finally found his groove and is ready to take off this season.
Rookie Noah Dobson looks fresh and ready for the season as well. He got an assist in his NHL debut, and more good things should come from him soon. The NHL is a huge step up from the Canadian junior leagues he played in last year, especially without any AHL conditioning. The pace and heaviness of the game require an adjustment, but he looks ready for the challenge.
There must also be a shout out to Semyon Varlamov, who secured his first win as an Islander against the Florida Panthers. It took a shoot-out, but he stood tall and made some strong saves. The Panthers bowled into him a few times and tried to push the puck past him, but he held his crease. The Coliseum heard several “Var-ly” chants throughout the game Friday, October 12 from the first period to the shoot-out.
Probably the best, and least expected, positive in the opening week was the power play. The Islanders actually scored on the power play… Multiple times! In fact, both goals in the game against Carolina came from the power play. Is the new power play coach working some magic, or is this a fluke? We won’t really know for a few more weeks, but whether or not the team keeps this up all season, it’s been wonderful to watch so far.
Yes, Mat Barzal still needs his first goal of the season. Yes, Varlamov has huge shoes to fill — Lehner did record a shutout in his Isles debut. Yes, Brock Nelson and company are taking stupid penalties that set the Islanders back. But this doesn’t spell disaster yet. The wins will come – Last year, the team opened the season with a 2-3-0 record, too.
So long as the team keeps working together and reforming their identity, this season will still look up.
Featured Image: Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images