Your 2019-20 New York Islanders Season Preview
I’m a little late to the party, as the Islanders have already played two games but it’s still safe to say it’s early enough to give a full season preview and prediction for these New York Islanders.
The New York Islanders come into the season on a high, having swept the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the ’18-’19 playoffs before being swept by the Carolina Hurricanes in the second round. They’re coming off a high because no one expected them to get 103 points, let alone sniff the playoffs, and most of the experts picked against them in their series with the Penguins.
However, it’s a new year and some new faces have joined the team. Gone are Robin Lehner and Val Filppula, and in are Derick Brassard and Semyon Varlamov. Although Varly’s contract is ridiculous for a 31 year old injury-prone goaltender, his friendship with star KHL goalie and Islanders prospect Ilya Sorokin should be worth it in the long haul.
Brassard comes to the Island after a disappointing season in which he saw nearly as many Residence Inns as goals. Brassard has been on four teams in two seasons, so having some semblance of home and stability will do him wonders.
The forward group is essentially the same, with the only addition being Brassard and the only real movement on the four lines being the promotion of Michael Dal Colle to second line wing. That may not be Dal Colle’s spot for long, as Oliver Wahlstrom is hot on his tail, but MDC will have a chance to prove himself with Brock Nelson and Josh Bailey.
The first line was kept together after a fantastic playoff run in which Jordan Eberle dominated the Penguins and Mathew Barzal did well, things only a handful of players can do with his skating ability. All three linemates are looking to build on the playoff success and have more consistent numbers in the regular season, as pretty much everyone on the Islanders had a down offensive year.
The Isles brought back Lee, Nelson and Eberle after swinging and missing on Artemi Panarin. There is still a large scoring void in the Top Six, but if each of the aforementioned players can step up and pitch in more offensively, the Islanders should be fine. Their game isn’t built on offense, but they also can’t win every game 1-0.
The second line of Dal Colle, Brock Nelson and Josh Bailey has gotten the bulk of the work against opposing stars so far. They’ve held their own, as the Islanders have only given up three goals in two games, one of them being on the PP. There aren’t too many metrics you can take from two games, but just seeing the three of them be defensively responsible against the caliber of talent they’ve faced so far is a good sign.
The fourth line is in tact, as it has been for many years, but the third line is probably the most intriguing. Derick Brassard is the perfect third line center for this team and if Anthony Beauvillier can replicate the soft hands he showed in Sunday’s 4-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets, he’ll bring a much needed scoring prowess to a team that quite frankly lacks it. Leo Komarov is going to be the best he’s been his entire career and if he can stay out of the penalty box and chip in from time to time, he’s a perfect compliment of the third line.
The defense of the Islanders is their strong suit. While the goaltenders last season (Greiss and Lehner) had excellent years, the foundation of Barry Trotz’s teams starts with the communication between the defense and the rest of the team.
Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock are the top pair for the Isles, especially after shutting down Sidney Crosby and Co. in the sweep of the Penguins last April. Devon Toews and Scott Mayfield form the second pair, with Toews being the more active one and Mayfield more of a stay-at-home D man.
Rounding out the pairings are Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk, who are the veterans of this corp and who also will be spelled the most thanks to a newcomer. Noah Dobson, all of 19 years old, made his presence known in camp and actually made the team. There were a few factors that played into it, including him not being eligible to play in the AHL due to his junior hockey status, but nonetheless he is here.
Dobson will not play every game like Islander fans want him to. He is more than capable but he is also just 19 years old and needs to learn how to walk before he learns how to run. He’s clearly here for a reason but throwing him in there for all 82 without letting him develop with some games in the press box isn’t good for him. Defensemen need to be treated differently because their growth takes a long time.
The Islanders’ D corps is rock solid and will be the strength of this team. Regardless of who’s in net, you can almost certainly rely on their six defensemen putting their best effort forward night in and night out.
Through two games, they’ve also stepped up offensively. Devon Toews’ goal was a fluke more than a skilled play, but Scott Mayfield and Toews both had assists on Sunday and they’ve been jumping up into the offensive zone plenty of late. If they can keep that going it’ll be a good season.
The duo of Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner won the Jenning Trophy collectively, and Lehner was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as well. Although both goalies had near identical numbers, everyone was up in arms when Lehner was not offered a long-term deal and went to the Chicago Blackhawks instead.
Enter Varlamov, who has a very high ceiling but whose entire career has been mired by injury and inconsistency. Varly is a quality goaltender and even though the term was too high for someone like him, he will fit right in where Lehner left.
This year will be the ultimate test of whether or not Mitch Korn and Piero Greco’s system is the sole reason for a goaltender’s success. Obviously it would be a mix of both, but if Varlamov seizes the opportunity and Lehner falters in Chicago, we may have our answer.
The goaltending was another strong facet of the Islanders’ success last season. In years past, they were the reason why the Isles never went anywhere. With Greiss and Varlamov sharing the net, it shouldn’t be a concern in the least bit. Unless either goalie regresses exponentially, the goaltending will continue to be another building block this team stands on.
The Islanders’ special teams left a lot to be desired last season. Quite frankly, their PP is the reason why they didn’t advance any further in last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs. It was 29th all season and though it had its moments, there was way too much standing around and not enough throwing pucks at the net.
As for the PK, they were middle of the road all season but stepped up in playoff time. If Lane Lambert can continue to get the Islanders to work (which is their M.O. anyway) the Penalty Kill will improve vastly. Most of the trouble last season came from deflected shots.
In is Jim Hiller, former Toronto Maple Leafs’ assistance coach, to run the Power Play after an abysmal year. Scott Gomez left the team before the season started, although it was made clear that he was not let go and left on his own volition.
Regardless, Hiller brings a pedigree of success to the Power Play. The Islanders are certainly not as talented as the Maple Leafs, at least offensively, but moving pieces around can only help after last year’s disaster.
Barry Trotz and the rest of the gang turned this team around in no time. If anything, this team will be more disciplined than last season because instead of learning a new style, they can build upon it for another year. If anyone tells you coaching doesn’t making a difference in the NHL, just look at the last two years of New York Islanders hockey.
The Islanders are essentially the same team they were last season, with a few people leaving and a few people coming in. They have their core group of guys set for the next 4-6 years and will continue to build on the success of last season.
The Metropolitan Division got much better over the off-season but that doesn’t mean that the Islanders will flop like most predict them to. There won’t be much regression because this team plays as a TEAM, not a group of individuals. The outside noise of a disappointing season has been the same narrative for what feels like 25 years now.
It’s old, it’s tired and most of these people don’t even watch this Islanders team. They just look on paper and assume that because they don’t pack a ton of power up front that they can’t win games. That’s not the case at all. Will they repeat their 103 point season from just a year ago? Probably not, but they will be in the playoffs again. Bookmark them for third in the Metro with 99 points and a loss in the second round of the playoffs. They’re good enough to compete, but they don’t have enough firepower to win the Stanley Cup JUST yet.