3 Surprises and 2 Concerns from the Islanders’ Season So Far

by John Pagnotta | Dec 22, 2023 | General | 0 comments

Photo Credit: espn.com
Heading into the 2023-24 season, the New York Islanders were coming off a quiet offseason that was headlined by extending several players to long-term deals, such as star goalie Ilya Sorokin, backup goalie Seymon Varlamov, forward Pierre Engvall, and defenseman Scott Mayfield. They had a successful regular season as they clinched a wild card spot in the playoffs, but they got eliminated in 6 games by the Carolina Hurricanes in the first round. Through the team’s first 32 games, it has been a solid start as they have a 15-8-9 record, good for 39 points and 2nd place in the Metro. Behind their record has been some surprises and a few concerns to be aware of…

Surprise #1. Noah Dobson’s outstanding start

Noah Dobson showed some solid growth last season as he became the quarterback on the power play and recorded 49 points (13 goals, 36 assists). However, he left management and fans displeased with his growth on the defensive end. This year, he has found a new level on both parts of his game. Dobson has been a near point-per-game player (5G, 28A) so far, which is a rarity in the Islanders’ defensive structure. However, his defense has taken a massive leap, as he consistently makes great plays to prevent goals in his own end. His TOI has increased to 25:32, one of the highest in the NHL, with the Islanders’ injuries to their defensemen, but he has proven that he can live up to the task. Can Islanders fans see him holding up the Norris Trophy at the end of the season? If he keeps up this pace, he definitely can!

Concern #1. The struggling penalty kill

Ever since the good old days of Doug Weight, the Islanders have usually held a top penalty kill in the NHL. Even when they switched from Barry Trotz’s heavy defensive scheme to Lane Lambert, they had the 9th best penalty kill (82%). This year, the PK has been horrendous as it is last in the NHL (73%). It has definitely lost them several games that they could’ve won (for example, against the Devils in November and against the Bruins a couple days ago). There was a stretch where the Islanders gave up a goal on 10 of their 17 kills. That’s a 41% successful rate, which is unheard of! The Islanders have been better lately with the penalty kill, but they must fix it soon to stay in a playoff spot in a Metro division that is beginning to heat up.

Surprise #2. The Islanders’ scoring as a team

Last year, the Islanders attempted to play with a more aggressive approach than in years’ past under Lambert. They eventually reverted back to a structure similar to Barry Trotz’s as the playoffs drew closer. The Isles had the 23rd lowest goals per game in the NHL (2.95) and lost many games because of their inability to score (especially in shootouts). While their scoring rate is closer to the middle of the pack this season (3.06, 15th in NHL), it has been very high over the last 12 games (3.66 goals per game). The Isles have 4 players scoring at a near point-per-game pace (Dobson, Barzal, Horvat, Nelson) and 11 players with at least 10 points. In a year where Ilya Sorokin hasn’t been at his best, this eruption by the Isles’ offense is vital until the goalie finds his form.

Concern #2. Ilya Sorokin’s play

Ilya Sorokin’s numbers this season are considerably down from the past few years: 9-4-7, 3.04 GAA, .914 SV%. Now, those numbers aren’t terrible for any goalie, but they aren’t good for a superstar like Sorokin who has never had a GAA over 2.40 in his career. It isn’t all his fault as he still makes spectacular saves every evening, but the easy goals have been getting by him more often this year. In addition, the Islanders defense allowing nearly 35 shots a game isn’t easy for any goalie. However, Ilya has been one of the worst NHL goalies on the penalty kill this year, which has dragged down the team’s PK. He has had several Sorokin-type games this year, including saving 32/33 shots vs the hot Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday night. If Sorokin gets hot, this Islanders team can definitely ride off him and make the playoffs. If this trend continues, it may be a harder path there.
Photo Credit: amnewyork.com

Surprise #3. The Islanders’ power play

Along with the scoring outburst by the Islanders in the past month, their power play has heated up in a big way. After recording one of the lowest power plays in years last season (15.2%), they are 5th in the NHL so far (25.6%). There are some reasons why this power play is so much different from last season’s with the same players. For one, the Isles hired a new PP coach and moved John MacLean to assistant coach. Another reason can be the Islanders’ PP lines. Recently, Dobson and Reilly have been the only D-men on the PP lines as Nelson, Barzal, Horvat, and Palmeri make up the first line while Engvall, Lee, Pageau, and Fasching/Wahlstrom make up the second line. The Isles have shot the puck way more on their recent power plays, which was their demise last season as they would pass way too much before attempting to shoot. In a start where the team’s penalty kill has been dreadful, the PP has been a pleasant surprise to watch so far.
Photo Credit: amnewyork.com
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My name is John Pagnotta and I live in Queens, NY. I am a sophomore at Monsignor McClancy Memorial High School. I am a huge fan of the Jets, Mets, Islanders, and Knicks. I started following sports when I was around 7 years old and I have not lost love for it ever since!

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