Islanders’ Barry Trotz details how important one youth player is to team’s success

kieffer bellows, islanders

The Islanders have started off the 2021–22 season with just one win over three games. After a 4-1 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks, the offense finally began to click, as Anthony Beauvillier, Cal Clutterbuck, and Oliver Wahlstrom all contributed goals.

A much-needed victory was on the line, and now the team will prepare to take on the Columbus Blue Jackets in the fourth game of the regular season on Thursday evening. With Wahlstrom leading the team with three points and three goals, Columbus presents a team winning two of their first three games but is coming off a 4–1 defeat to the Detroit Red Wings.

The Islanders, though, are still waiting on Anders Lee to make a return, relying on one youth player to pick up the slack in the meantime.

2016 first-round pick, Kieffer Bellows, was inserted into the game against Chicago, playing in about 13 minutes of action. He contributed five hits and one shot on goal. His development and impact will go a long way this season, especially if injuries begin to arise.

“It is [important], not only for our franchise but for every franchise,” said Trotz. “There’s some backside pressure there, which you need. You need it for the salary cap. You need it for freshness and you need it to continue filling spots. You’re always going to lose players over the years.”

Lee was scratched against Chicago, and it is unlikely he takes on Columbus on Thursday with the Islanders, but after he overcomes an illness, Islander fans will be happy to welcome him back with open arms. Of course, the pairing of Lee, Matthew Barzal, and Kyle Palmieri represent the majority of their offense.

However, keep an eye on Bellows this season — more action will help his growth, but in the meantime, look ahead to the impact of Lee’s return,

New York Rangers pregame report: Game Day vs. Islanders

The New York have their first preseason game tonight as they host the New York Islanders at Madison Square Garden.

New York Rangers 0-0-0
New York Islanders 0-0-0
Venue: Madison Square Garden
Television: MSG Network

The New York Rangers will play their first of six preseason contests tonight as they host the New York Islanders at Madison Square Garden.

The Rangers will go with a lineup that will be a mixture of kids and veterans with head coach Gerard Gallant giving the younger players an opportunity to play.

Lineup

(Per Vince Mercogliano)

Chris Kreider – Mika Zibanejad – Alexis lafreniere
Barclay Goodrow – Filip Chytil – Vitali Kravtsov
Dylan Hunt – Morgan Barron – Julien Gauthier
Will Cuylle – Matt Rempe – Karl Henriksson

Ryan Lindgren – Adam Fox
Patrik Nemeth – Nils Lunkvist
Jarred Tinordi – Anthony Bitetto

Alexandar Georgiev
Adam Huska

At practice this morning, Fox, Zibanejad, Kreider, Laf, and Hunt appeared to be the PP1 unit.  Goodrow, Chytil, Kravtsov line were working together on the PP2 uni with Lundkvist at the point and Gauthier at the net front.

The Ranger’s next game will be Tuesday night against the Boston Bruins at MSG.

Anders Lee acknowledged as the biggest addition for the Islanders this year

The Islanders are off and running at training camp, and so is their captain Anders Lee.

Lee was back on the ice Thursday with his teammates for the first time since he suffered a season-ending ACL injury last March. And as he told the media, there are no restrictions and he’s 100% heading towards the regular season.

“It felt really good to be on the ice with the boys,” the Isles’ captain said after the first session. “Good day 1 of camp here. It’s one of those days where it’s an absolute workday. Good to be out here and get that under our belt… For me personally, it’s just continuing on my rehab and my progress here. It’s great to have camp to be able to do that. Just taking it day by day.”

So with Lee’s return, the consensus is the Isles should now be an even stronger threat to win a Stanley Cup. The organization did bring in key veterans in Zach Parise and Zdeno Chara this offseason, and kept most of the core intact that has appeared in back-to-back conference/Stanley Cup semifinals, but Lee is seen as biggest acquisition — funny to use that term — for them going into 2021-22.

“Well everyone talks about the Islanders and how they’ve gone so deep to the semifinals to game seven, right there to go to the Stanley Cup Finals,” said NHL Network’s Mike Johnson yesterday. “What do the need to get over the hump? Well everyone’s like you have to get more goals.

“Well they didn’t have to go find somebody elsewhere. They’ve got Anders Lee coming back. There’s your couple more goals. There’s 35 more plus playoffs so long as he stays healthy. You almost forget how team-centric the Isles are given how well they played and how deep they went without him. How good he is.”

The Islanders’ offense is expected to take a big step forward this year with Lee’s return. Before he got sidelined, he was on pace for a possible 30-goal season. The 31-year-old was also vital to a power play which really started to build some confidence. Both those elements are crucial to the club’s success. And it’s safe to argue this year more than any other.

There are still another few weeks before the regular season begins, but having Lee back in the fold has everyone associated with the Isles excited. From a leadership standpoint , he’s leading the charge once again. Lee’s production should also be right back where it was.

Additions were a major part of this Islanders squad and how they were constructed for this season. Lee is one of them. He’s the most important one for his club to finally break through.

Lamoriello’s vaccination rule another example of why Islanders are model franchise

One thing Islanders’ general manager Lou Lamoriello has ingrained in the organization since he arrived three years ago is TEAM over everything.

All aspects of what the Isles do on and off the ice — and from a management standpoint — all have the best interests of the team in mind. It’s why they’ve become a beacon of stability, not only among their NHL counterparts but in the entire sports landscape. Yesterday’s announcement from Lamoriello was just another example of this.

“We will not allow any player in our organization to participate unless they are vaccinated,” the Isles’ boss said to the media for his pre-training camp presser.

Hats off to Lamoriello for making such a statement, and I’m not just saying that too because I am fully vaccinated. It shows again the mindset of a whole group of people, not just one person.

The league made its rules clear earlier this month that unvaccinated players can be suspended by their respective clubs and lose wages per day that they aren’t fully treated. That’s something Lamoriello and the Islanders won’t tolerate.

We saw last year how much COVID could wreak havoc on teams. Just ask the Devils, Sabres and Canucks; their seasons were massively halted because of the outbreaks that took place among players and staff. The Islanders were lucky to not have any players contract the virus last season, albeit a few scares.

It was noted too that there was one minor leaguer in the organization who wouldn’t get vaccinated and the plan being for him to play for a different club in 2021-22.  That call from him to do that sends a strong message that the organization is not willing to take any chances.

“We’re very conscious of what’s going on in the world,” said Lamoriello. “The Delta Variant now and where that’s at and we will be taking every possible precaution that we can to protect, to keep our players, our staff, our coaches as healthy as we possibly can and their families.”

The NHL is reportedly nearing 100% of having its players fully vaccinated, which they should be commended for. The Islanders will be one of those teams with everyone in that category because thats how the mentality is now around here — team above everything else.

There won’t be any Zac Rinaldo type situation. The Blue Jackets yesterday said they told Rinaldo to not report to camp because he has yet to get vaxxed.

Instead, the Islanders can keep their focus on more important things at hand, like preparing for an 82-game — hopefully longer than that — journey.

Zdeno Chara could add extra element for Islanders’ special teams

The Zdeno Chara era — the second coming of it — is set to begin Thursday when the Islanders open training camp for the 2021-22 season.

It’s an exciting time for the 44-year-old, as he’s joining an Isles’ squad that has hopes of lifting the Stanley Cup this year after coming close the last two years. And there’s been a lot of chatter about how Chara will be used in the defensive rotation by head coach Barry Trotz.

Will he be playing top-four minutes alongside Scott Mayfield? Will he be paired with Noah Dobson, who’s 23 years younger his senior? Will him and Andy Greene making up the oldest defensive pairing in league history? (just joking with that one, or maybe not?)

Those questions should be answered over the coming weeks. But, there’s another part of Chara’s repertoire that the Islanders could benefit from — his ability to play special teams.

Yes, Chara has not been a true power play threat for close to five seasons now, having succeeded those duties to younger blueliners, but there’s no denying his shot is still one of the most dangerous in the league. The image of he and Ryan Pulock — who has a lethal shot of his own — on the same man-advantage should have Islander fans salivating. Chara would also probably allow Pulock more ample opportunities because the opposition’s focus would be directed toward him. with The lefty-righty dynamic of those two could become a big advantage too.

The Islanders power play absolutely needs to be better than it’s been the last few seasons. They have captain Anders Lee returning, a stud playmaker in Mathew Barzal, two sharpshooters in Oliver Wahlstrom and Kyle Palmieri, and added Zach Parise, who in a two-year span — 2018-20 — recorded 22 power play goals. Chara’s presence though, is another reason to believe he is what could take it over the top.

One of the most frustrating things about the inefficiency of the Isles’ power play units over the years has been its refusal to shoot. Well now there are no excuses with a prime shooter, facilitatorlike Chara helping man the point, whether on power play one or the quarterback on the second unit.

At the other end, Chara’s possible use on the penalty kill could be interesting. The team’s PK already has two extremely effective players in Adam Pelech and Scott Mayfield. The age he’s at, it’s hard to see the coaching staff utilizing Chara at anything other than the power play or even strength. But the future Hall of Famer showed last year he can still kill penalties. He was a part of Capitals’ PK that was top-five in the league last year.

With Chara’s length and reach, he could become a stalwart on the second unit and make things more difficult for the opposition. Something the Islanders have become good at as a whole and would only provide another advantage.

However Trotz and the coaching staff see Chara fitting, there’s no questioning how his ability can have a huge effect on the present club. Special teams maybe more than any other.

It’s a nice add on to have, and the Islanders might be very fortunate because of it in the long run.

 

The Islanders will be getting their national spotlight this season

Back in late July, I had posted a blog about the Islanders gaining more national exposure for this upcoming season. Well, it seems that piece was pretty foretelling.

The NHL announced its National TV schedule yesterday and the Isles are scheduled to have 12, yes TWELVE, appearances for the country to see during the 2021-22 season.

ESPN, the league’s primary new television home, will show the team two times: Chicago on October 19th and against the Washington Capitals in late April. The Isles are slated for four games on TNT — January 5th at Vancouver, March 20th at Philadelphia, March 27th against the defending champion Lightning, and April 3rd against the Devils. The other six times will be on the ESPN+/Hulu, the NHL’s new streaming partners.

Sidenote: There is no Islanders/Rangers game scheduled for either of the three platforms which is truly disappointing.

Now before we get all technical here — which some have already pointed out because the Isles’ games to be seen on ESPN+ and Hulu are streaming services that require subscription — this is the new way of watching sports in this world. The major four sports in the U.S. have all moved in this direction, the NHL being the latest.

And there’s no mistake for those specific games selected, that being the Islanders are a draw now. The Isles were received well in the ratings during their run in the postseason last year, which, was helped in part to it being the final playoff games being played at Nassau Coliseum. But this year, having come off that exhilarating summer and moving into a beautiful brand new facility at UBS Arena, it makes them more of an attractive team people want to watch.

For the last few seasons, the Islanders and their fans would be lucky if they were shown once or twice on a national platform. Now they’re getting a dozen. And yes, while many fans rather have the dynamic duo of Brendan Burke and Butch Goring calling the action, receiving this exposure is a great development for an organization that has for the longest time been left out of that conversation. These are the kinds of little things that can appeal to free agents.

Players in this league like to play for big-market teams. The Islanders have become one. Are they the Rangers? No. But they aren’t far away either.

When owners Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky bought the team seven years ago, they envisioned the franchise being seen as one of the premier organizations in the league. They’ve taken remarkable strides to get there. The winning and the management part have now been in place. Getting seen by major television audiences more is another large step in the right direction. That’s what they will get this year.

I’ve harped on the Isles getting more of a spotlight for years now. Some of it was justified, some not. But they’ve become too good for them not to be recognized as one of the top teams in the league. That  coincides with being seen by a national audience.

The fact they are getting that treatment now is a great thing.

 

Islanders’ Semyon Varlamov a Vezina Trophy favorite for this season

It’s been written about a length now how important goaltending has become to the overall success of the Islanders. As one of the stabilizing facets under the Lou Lamoriello-Barry Trotz regime, you would think the Vezina Trophy would have made its way back to Long Island by now.

Hall of Famer Billy Smith remains the only Vezina winner in the franchise’s history when he won the award in 1982. Robin Lehner came close to winning the award in 2019, only to fall short to Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy. And Semyon Varlamov, the goalie who replaced Lehner, had a Vezina-worthy season in 2020-21 but finished fifth in the voting.

This year though could be different, as there seems to be more faith in Varlamov as one of the heavy favorites to receive the biggest prize for a goaltender.

According to vegasinsider.com, Varlamov has the fourth-best odds to win the Vezina. Ahead of him are Vasilevskiy, Marc-Andre Fleury (the reigning winner) and Phillipp Grubauer, who was a finalist last year in Colorado and is now a member of the expansion Seattle Kraken.

That’s a star-studded list. But it’s definitely one that Varlamov deserves to be on.

Last year the 33-year-old was tremendous for the Isles in the regular season posting 19 wins and having a GAA (goals-against average) and SV% (save percentage) both in the top-five of goalies in the league. Varlamov was able to form a formidable duo with rookie Ilya Sorokin in net, and the two showed terrific chemistry as a 1A-1B combo. The Russian native was a key part of the Islanders getting within one game of the Stanley Cup Finals and head coach Barry Trotz acknowledged him as the team’s MVP for the season after he was snubbed in the trophy Voting.

“I’m biased a little bit because I see Varly from a day-in and day-out aspect,” Trotz said. “He’s probably been our MVP this year. I can’t challenge the three finalists, [the Lightning’s Andrei] Vasilevskiy has been outstanding, [the Golden Knights’ Marc-Andre] Fleury has been outstanding, I’ve had [the Avalanche’s] Philipp Grubauer and he’s been outstanding. I’m biased because I get to see Varly and I know how much he means to us in a very competitive division this year.”

Trotz might not need to have the same defense of his starting goaltender based on the expectations now of he and his team for 2021-22. Experts see the Islanders as a threat to win the Stanley Cup with Varlamov being a huge part of why they are in that position. He’s an elite keeper. And it needs to be said — which has already been recognized by yours truly — that Varlamov and Sorokin make up arguably the top goaltending tandem in the NHL after Fleury was dealt from Vegas to Chicago earlier this offseason.

Securing the Vezina would be a huge accomplishment for Varlamov after how close he came to winning it once before. He finished second in voting for the 2012-13 season when he backstopping the Colorado Avalanche. It’s crazy to believe he hasn’t been in consideration since. Until now.

Varlamov has reached that high level again. And it’s why he is a favorite going into this year to bring home the greatest honor a goaltender can receive.

 

 

 

Islanders Mathew Barzal ranked among top 30 NHL players for 2021-22

With each passing year, Mathew Barzal has continued his ascent towards being recognized as one of the best players in the NHL has to offer.

The Islanders’ star center has garnered respect from pundits and fans alike, and on Sunday during NHL Network’s NHL Top Players countdown, it was revealed where he slots in among the elite for the 2021-22 season.

Barzal ranked it at number 29 as the only Islander represented so far. Just like the three years prior, he might be the only one. You could have easily made the case for a Brock Nelson, Semyon Varlamov or Adam Pelech to make the list. But Barzal has the star power that comes with being a top-50 contender.

The newest ranking now makes it three straight years Barzal has made the list. It’s also the third consecutive time he’s moved up significantly. The 24-year-old placed in at 42nd before the 2019-20 season and 49th in 2018-19.

“The thing that really astounds me where Barzal is concerned is that ability to escape laterally,” NHL Network analyst Stu Grimson said. “Side to side he’s among the best players in the game today. Top-end speed, top-end puck handling, he’s got a great shot. But that ability to change direction laterally, to throw off false information … when you get this player underneath the face-off dots, underneath the hash marks in the offensive zone, I think he’s as hard to contain, as hard to defend against, as there is in this game today.”

Barzal slotting in at 30 seems like a very good spot based on the progression he’s seen in his career. He once again led the Islanders in points in 2019-20 and was a clutch performer in the team’s run to the Stanley Cup Semifinals. That said, there are still parts of his game that can get even stronger which Grimson also made note of.

“Here’s a guy, you go back a couple of years of 60-point seasons back-to-back,” he added. “When he steps into the NHL he rattles off 80-plus points to win the Calder. To me, he’s on the brink of getting closer to that peak physical strength. I think I see an upward trajectory, upward tick towards in Barzal’s game. I think he gets to that point-per-game we’re accustomed to seeing.”

Barzal will certainly have the fullest of opportunities to get back to that play now with Anders Lee returning from injury and a goal scorer in newly re-signed Kyle Palmieri flanking him on the first line. Those two players are certainly the best linemates in terms of skill that the 25-year-old has been with since entering the league. Barzal was affected big time by Lee going down last year, so those two re-igniting their chemistry should make be something to watch for.

Individually, there are expectations that Barzal can take it to another level at both ends of the ice with this being the fourth year of the Barry Trotz regime. He’s still not on a level of say Sidney Crosby or Patrice Bergeron, but he isn’t as far as some may think. This being year number five for him could be when Barzal’s defensive game takes a huge leap forward.

The Islanders have Stanley Cup aspirations this year, and Barzal will once again play a key role in finally getting them over the hump. Now seen as a top-30 player in this league — or higher if you perceive him that way — he’s in a echelon of special talents and continues to make strides as one of the game’s best.

 

 

 

Andrew Ladd knew Islanders were on their way during time with organization

Earlier this summer, the Islanders were able to move on from Andrew Ladd with both sides needing a fresh start.

Dealt to the Arizona Coyotes, Ladd’s tenure with the organization — which will go down as a forgetful one for many after he came in as a big-ticket acquisition as a part of the now memorable, or now not so much — hyped-up free agent class of 2016, finally came to its conclusion. Ladd never lived up to the albatross of a contract he agreed to as inconsistency and constant injuries plagued his entire time with the Isles.

During that time, the team struggled to keep up their winning ways they had established just prior to the veteran forward’s arrival with back-to-back postseason appearances in 2014-15 and 2015-16. But there was something still there, which Ladd pointed out during his appearance on the Dropping The Gloves Podcast yesterday with John Scott. It was that the club had the right personnel in place to have the success they’ve earned the last three years.

Things didn’t go very well my first couple of years there, but you could tell they had the right guys,” Ladd said.

Around that period, the Islanders had seen the progression of several of their veterans — John Tavares, Josh Bailey, Brock Nelson, Anders Lee, Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy — along with the influx of youth — Mathew Barzal, Anthony Beauvillier, Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech. Yet they still lacked identity as a team to win, which Ladd acknowledged.

“Sometimes they just need a different message, path. That’s when Lou (Lamoriello) and Barry (Trotz) came in.”

Once those two came in, everything changed for the Isles. The team began to win again and a culture had been put in place. The newfound prosperity the Islanders were having surprised many in the hockey world, but no one inside the Isles’ room — Ladd included — were shocked with the turnaround.

“Everyone around was surprised about the success we (that group) had, but no I don’t think anyone in that room was surprised because they knew the people and the character of that room,” he noted.

That character and the players in that room has now led the Islanders to three straight postseason appearances. Ladd though, never got to play a true role in it. And because the Isles were also in a bind this summer because of their salary cap situation, he knew the time had come for him to find a new home.

“I knew it was coming,” Ladd said. “Lou (Lamoriello) was great. One thing about Lou is he’s open and honest about what’s going on. I kind of knew the whole way they were trying to get it done.”

Ladd will now get a chance to re-vitalize his career with another struggling organization in Arizona. As a two-time Cup winner, and being part of several winning teams, he could be a very important piece for them moving forward. He was once seen that way with the Islanders.

His time with the Isles was disappointing and didn’t live up to the expectations, but he noticed quickly the organization were on their way to being good.

He ended up being right.

The Islanders have legit scorers this year who should ignite the offense

The Islanders and their fans should be hoping one facet of their game takes a big step forward this season. What is it? Scoring.

It’s no secret the Isles’ offense has been questioned for the lack thereof despite how much team success they’ve had over the past three years. They ranked 21st twice and 20th in Goals Per Game in the regular season, that according to foxsports.com. In that time, they’ve also not had a 30-goal scorer; the last was captain Anders Lee during the 2017-18 season when he tallied 40 goals.

Having a forward of that caliber probably could have increased those numbers slightly or maybe a wide margin. And it hasn’t been for the lack of trying. General manager Lou Lamoriello took a swing for Artemi Panarin in free agency two years ago, and this summer the team put their hat in the Vladimir Tarasenko sweepstakes. Both were unsuccessful, even with Tarasenko still possibly lingering out there.

But the Islanders might have finally solved that glaring issue. Lee and the newly re-signed Kyle Palmieri have the ability to give the offense a true shot in the arm, and both do have 30-plus goal potential.

Lee has already surpassed the 30-goal plateau twice in his career. As stated earlier, he notched 40 red lights four years ago and had 34 the season before that. Before the 31-year-old went down for the season in March, he had 12 goals and was on pace to come near or eclipsing that mark again. Could Lee have gotten there? It’s fair to say yes with the bounce back season he was having and how the line of he, Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle were progressing.

Lee is now fully recovered from his injury and he will be back with Barzal and most likely Palmieri. That trio should have more of an attack mentality, meaning more offense and more goals.

Palmieri is a former 30-goal scorer in his own right from his years with the Anaheim Ducks, having done it in 2015-16. He’s expected to replace the production of the departed Eberle. He and Barzal showed some chemistry in the few times they were together during the postseason.

Barzal truly has never really had someone like Palmieri, and vice versa. The former just might be the most skilled forward the 30-year-old Palmieri has lined up with in his career. That should account for something. Palmieri’s shoot-first mentality should add a new dynamic for the first line as a whole.

The offense should also see more balanced scoring with Oliver Wahlstrom, Brock Nelson, Anthony Beauvillier, and the addition of Zach Parise. Nelson has yet to score 30 in his career, but this might be the year he finally breaks through. Wahlstrom on the other hand is the team’s most complete sniper, but he is still raw and reaching 30 goals as a third liner seems a bit farfetched. But, if he does get a shot on the first line — which some may think he might — all bets are off.

As much as the Isles are a defense-first squad, offense shouldn’t be as hard to come by as its been in years past. They have some firepower that could do some damage this season.