New for the 2019-20 season for Isles Blog, our Rob Taub each Monday will give you his thoughts on five important things to key on for that week’s games for the New York Islanders.
The first few days of 2020 didn’t go particularly in the Isles’ favor.
After escaping D.C. on New Year’s Eve with a 4-3 victory in regulation over the Capitals, the Islanders dropped back-to-back games to a pesky Devils squad and the surging Toronto Maple Leafs. In both contests, the recurring theme was the inability to finish. And it wasn’t just not being able to solve MacKenzie Blackwood and Michael Hutchison, but the number of posts and close calls have led to mounting frustration.
Head coach Barry Trotz does feel though that things are going to turn soon for his team.
“”It’s like anything in life. You put a lot of effort into something and maybe you don’t get rewarded the first time, but the whole thing is to stay with it and you’ll get rewarded,” Trotz acknowledged after Saturday’s defeat. “That’s life. It’ll turn and I thought we played a pretty solid game.”
Hopefully Trotz is right because a lot of his most reliable forwards — Josh Bailey, Anders Lee, Jordan Eberle and Anthony Beauvillier — seem to be gripping their sticks too tight right now. Lee has one point in his last five games, Bailey one point in his last ten, Eberle zero points in his last five and Beauvillier one point in his last seven.
The task at hand this week for the Isles might be just what they need to get back in rhythm. Starting with Colorado tonight, the Islanders are looking to end their four-game home losing streak. Tuesday night will be a chance to exact some revenge in the Garden State against New Jersey while Saturday night against Boston expects to be another uphill battle against one of the top teams in the league.
Here are the five things to watch for:
Upping their game.
The Islanders played their best game in a while in Toronto, but they are going to need even more if they want to come away with points against teams like Colorado and Boston. As the case last year, Trotz’s group gets up for games against the better teams; they are 11-2-1 against teams who currently sit third place or above in their respective divisions. Goaltender Semyon Varlamov, who has taken over the starter’s role, holds an 8-1-0 record against teams who are also not fighting for a wild card spot this season.
Noah Dobson gaining more confidence.
The news of Adam Pelech’s unfortunate “freak” injury that will sideline him for the rest of the year opens up the door for Dobson. Before Saturday night, Dobson had skated in only 11 of the Isles’ 40 games before being a regular the last two contests. You can imagine why it’s been hard for the 19-year-old to really get his legs under him and show what he can do. In the Leafs game though, Dobson looked like he was starting to look more comfortable. Despite ending the night a -2, Dobson looked solid in his 10:54 of ice time and had three shots on goal, tying his season-high. Dobson should get all three games this week even with Sebastian Aho called up from Bridgeport. The reason being, the more he plays, the more he asserts himself.
The push for Brock Nelson to be an All-Star.
The All-Star Game doesn’t take place in St. Louis for another few weeks, but Nelson still has the chance to solidify why he should be there. Nelson has two goals in his last three games and three points in his last five games. Another strong showing over this next week can help further his case to be selected as the last man in for the Metro.
Brock “Should be an All-Star” Nelson snipes one home #Isles pic.twitter.com/yeQyfkT8u0
— Rob Taub (@RTaub_) January 3, 2020
Not playing down to their competition.
A theme that has been a bad trend this year is the Isles not beating down on the bad teams. The Islanders are under .500 at the moment against teams who have a losing record. Some of them have also come recently over the past few weeks which is a cause for concern, including their opponent tomorrow — the Devils. If the Isles are going to keep their spot in the Metro, while possibly keeping pace with the Caps, they need to start stomping on the teams that aren’t on their level.
Beating Boston at home.
The Islanders finally broke their long losing streak to the B’s last month in Beantown, now they have to do the same as the home team. New York hasn’t defeated Boston at either Barclays Center or Nassau Coliseum since November of 2013. On that night, d-man Andrew MacDonald got the game-winner that night and Kevin Poulin was the winning goalie for the Isles. That just goes to show you how long the Islanders have been slapped around by the Bruins on their home turf. That narrative needs to change. Add that it’s another litmus test for the Islanders, and it makes for an even juicier showdown.
Follow me on Twitter at @RTaub_