Graziano: Islanders Still Searching For Their Identity

Barry Trotz's Team Might Need An Addition Or Two

Andy Graziano
February 12, 2020 - 10:15 am

Someone needs to explain, and explain quickly, who the New York Islanders have been the past 13 games or so (7-4-3).

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Since Adam Pelech went down with a season-ending Achilles injury, the team that needed (needs?) a scorer has watched its game turned upside down to something that doesn’t resemble the style head coach Barry Trotz trained it to play.

The Isles still don’t have a point-per-game scorer and have only one 20-goal player (Brock Nelson). They have allowed 46 goals in the aforementioned span (3.29 per game) and have allowed three goals in five straight contests.

On the flip side, they have scored 55 (3.93), including five in three of their past four. They have won four of five to keep pace in a hotly contested Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference. And they continue to show a fighting “never say die” spirit that president and general manager Lou Lamoriello and Trotz have created.

After beating the Los Angeles Kings in a game closer than many thought it should have been, there were many naysayers in the fanbase who glanced at the team's upcoming schedule with trepidation and dread. Luckily, so far, the team hasn’t. Instead, the players have looked at it as a challenge. A challenge to overcome their, as of late, defensive lapses, and come together with some massive, gut-check performances. After the first two of a seven-game make or break sequence, they have delivered.

The Islanders celebrate after a goal by right wing Jordan Eberle against the New Jersey Devils on Jan. 7, 2020, at the Prudential Center.
Ed Mulholland/USA TODAY Images

After a somber offensive performance left them with a 3-1 loss to the resurgent Tampa Bay Lightning, they trudged into Washington and put the dreadful, third-period collapse of January 18 behind them with a 5-3 win over the first place Capitals, holding Alex Ovechkin, the greatest pure goal scorer of this generation, with nary a quality chance.

On Tuesday night, they followed that up by not collapsing after the Philadelphia Flyers tied the game at three late in the third period after trailing 3-0 after one. Mathew Barzal set up his third goal of the game by feeding Ryan Pulock, who lasered a slap shot over Brian Elliot before Leo Komarov took a perfect alley-oop pass from Josh Bailey to cap another 5-3 win in Brooklyn. All three goals came in the final two minutes.

As a four-game road trip looms, with stops in Nashville, Las Vegas, Arizona and Colorado, there is a worry about do-it-all center Casey Cizikas, who left last night’s game with what appeared to be a serious lower-body injury. Trotz said postgame that an update might be forthcoming today, but a call-up would also be considered, leading some to believe it's a decent enough knock. For a team without Pelech and insufficient depth at the position, a long-term injury to Cizikas would be a brutal way to start the trip.

With the trade deadline looming on February 24, it may make things clearer for Lamoriello, almost easier to a degree. The top-six forward the Islanders seem to desperately need doesn’t appear readily available at a price New York wants to pay. Jason Zucker was recently traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins for a first-round draft choice, a top-four defensive prospect and forward Alex Galchenyuk, who has disappointed, but has talent.

Lamoriello might find it easier to acquire a third or fourth-line center to fill the void Cizikas would leave, and he did clear a contract off the books, sending Bode Wilde back to Saginaw. New York now has 48 contracts, just two shy of the limit.

I don’t know who the Islanders are right now. They certainly are not the team that started 16-3-1, but are likely better than the team that has gone 17-13-5 since. They aren’t the team that has allowed 3.29 goals per game over the last 14, and certainly aren’t the one that has scored 3.93 goals per in that same stretch.

Your thoughts? I’m all ears.

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