The New York Islanders continue to have difficulties finding the back of the net.
With an offense ranked 20th in the NHL, the Islanders are averaging just 2.8 goals per game during the 2018-19 season. The last three weeks have gone exactly to script as Barry Trotz’s men have scored just two regulation goals or fewer in eight of their last 11 games.
There was a four-game stretch prior to Sunday in which center and captain Anders Lee was the only Islanders forward that recorded a goal. Islanders defensemen accounted for four of the team’s seven tallies during that stretch while Lee had three of his own.
Star center and reigning Calder Trophy winner Mathew Barzal has been the most notable of slumping Islanders forwards when it comes to lighting the lamp. The 21-year-old considered by many to be the team’s most talented offensive threat hasn’t scored a goal in 15 games as he continues to exhibit a pass-first mentality.
Normally this would be a damning stretch to any pro hockey team’s hopes of making the playoffs, but it’s time for the last bit of detractors and nay-sayers to realize that this is who the Islanders are.
New York has won three of its last four and five of its last seven games as they continue to defy the odds, a win on Sunday against the Wild in Minnesota moving the team back into first place in the Metropolitan Division on a tiebreaker with 91 points with just 10 games left to play. All the scoring came from forwards this time, including Lee extending his goal streak to four-straight games.
While Barzal didn’t score, he continued to facilitate the offense in highlight-reel fashion. He has six assists over his past six games, including a late-third-period game-winning dish to Anders Lee on Thursday night against the Montreal Canadiens and the overtime-winning setup for Brock Nelson on Sunday against the Wild.
It was an all-important response to a difficult stretch from Feb. 20 to Mar. 3 when they went 2-5-0 over a seven-game stretch.
The Islanders have that structured system instituted by Trotz to thank as they remain amongst the most resolute teams in the NHL. Their defense is ranked No. 1 in the NHL, allowing 173 goals through 72 games. Though the stonewalling goaltending duo of Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner — who both are enjoying career years — continue to be a sublime final line of defense for the blueliners.
With Lehner out for the past six games with an upper-body injury, Greiss has single-handedly helped keep the waters steady despite some troubling times. Over his last four games, he’s allowed just five goals on 121 shots, good for a .959 save percentage.
It isn’t the prettiest hockey, and it’s frustrating for a fan base to see their team unable to consistently exhibit a scoring touch, but the fact of the matter is this has been one of the best seasons from an Islanders team in three decades.
The 91 points earned through 72 games is the most point accrued by an Islanders team since the dynasty years when they won the Stanley Cup four-times-in-a-row years from 1980-1983. The Islanders haven’t won a division title since the 1987-88 season.
“There’s not too many people that thought that would be the case,” Trotz said. “It’s a tribute to the group of young men that are playing night in and night out and are buying in.”