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Watling: Islanders fail to ice 20-goal scorer this season

For the second time in the history of the Islanders’ franchise, the team failed to skate at least one 20-goal scorer. Brock Nelson, who led the team  in tallies, came up two short in the 56-game shortened season. 

This apparent offensive struggle has hindered the entire team this season, as the Isles ended the regular season last night in the bottom third of the league in terms of goals per game. The Islanders sit as the 20th ranked offense, scoring 2.71 goals per game, sandwiched between the rebuilding Ottawa Senators and the Nashville Predators who barely squeaked into the postseason in a mediocre Central Division, aside from the top three teams.

Going back to the number, yes that is correct. Since 1972, the Islanders have had at least one 20-goal man in 46 of the 48 years the franchise has been around, with the first being Billy Harris who netted 28 in the 1972-73 season; Harris was the only skater to eclipse that mark. The only other year the team didn’t have someone in that category was 2008-09, when the team was dead last in the league. Freshman Kyle Okposo led that squad with only 18.

Most recently, the club had two forwards hit the mark.  Nelson and captain Anders Lee were able bury 26 and 20 goals respectively, both making it consecutive seasons with at least 20 or more tucks.

Perhaps it is unfair to judge a team in a season like this, as it was shortened by 26 games. Surely, if this was a full 82-game season, Nelson, Mathew Barzal (17 goals) and possibly three more forwards — Jordan Eberle (16), Anthony Beauviller (15) and J-G Pageau (14) — would all be expected to reach such a plateau. Even rookie Oliver Wahlstrom, who notched 12 goals in 44 games, might have nailed down 20 in a COVID-less campaign.

Regardless of this and the fact that scoring is down across the league, the Islanders are one of two teams that made the playoffs without a 20-goal scorer. The other was Nashville, a team expected to get throttled by the Central Division champion Carolina Hurricanes in the first round of the playoffs. Their leading scorer was Calle Jarnkrok, he registered just 13.

Other teams missing out include the basement dwelling Detroit Red Wings, the Columbus Blue Jackets, the New Jersey Devils, the Los Angeles Kings and the Anaheim Ducks, some not so good company for the Islanders. The Calgary Flames’ leading scorer Johnny Gaudreau only has 19 goals as well, but with four games remaining it is unfair to put them in this mix.

Read More: Watling: Barzal’s off day hurts the Islanders with few games remaining to find momentum

Watling: Komarov Surprisingly Effective on Top Line, Despite Need for More Talent

Despite the scoring woes the Islanders seem ready for a postseason that carries lofty expectations, one season removed from an Eastern Conference Finals appearance. This is an odd scenario considering how poorly the offense has been for the last month of the season and since Lee went down. At the time of the injury, head coach Barry Trotz told the media that the team would not use one player to fill the captain’s void.

“You’re not going to replace Anders Lee,” Trotz said. “He’s a very unique player and he’s a leader. We’ve done everything by committee for the most part. It’ll take a village to fill a void. We have a group that’s willing to do that and can do that.”

There is certainly some truth in that, as the Islanders have several dangerous lines that they can roll but only when they play at their best. Throughout the recent struggles, Barzal, Josh Bailey and even the revolving door of third liners playing alongside Pageau have been invisible. Even trade deadline acquisitions Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac have struggled at times, combining for just three goals. Come playoff time, the Islanders need these guys to step up.

The top line and power play certainly lacks the presence that Lee brings, someone who was on pace to continue the to be a 20-plus goal scorer. However, the committee of scoring talent the Islanders have cannot be overlooked.



Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattWatling

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