Devon Toews

Islanders beat Rangers in exhibition game; Shesterkin starts, but Lundqvist plays

The New York Islanders took care of business in a 2-1 exhibition win against the Rangers on Wednesday.

For the most part, the Islanders succeeded as you might expect. They seized on Rangers mistakes, making it difficult for the Blueshirts to get much going.

Rangers start Shesterkin, Varlamov gets nod for Islanders in exhibition

When the Rangers did manage to get things going, they didn’t have a whole lot of luck. Semyon Varlamov made the play(s) of the game with some impressive saves. It seems like the Isles’ net is Varlamov’s to lose, although Thomas Greiss also saw action during the latter portion of the 2-1 win.

Varlamov stopped all 19 shots he saw in two periods of action, while Greiss gave up one Filip Chytil goal.

For whatever it’s worth, Igor Shesterkin started for the Rangers, who eventually also brought Henrik Lundqvist into the action. Each goalie allowed one goal, with Lundqvist having a busier night overall.

From my vantage point, Lundqvist looked pretty sharp, although he’d probably want that Devon Toews game-winner back. It would be foolish to put too much stock in an exhibition game, anyway, but Lundqvist performed admirably.

The Rangers need to tighten things up as they’ll face a tough opponent in the Hurricanes on Saturday. The Islanders, meanwhile, must hope that they see the same Panthers effort as Florida burped up in getting thumped by the Lightning.

2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedules for Rangers and Islanders

(6) Carolina Hurricanes vs. (11) New York Rangers

Saturday, Aug. 1: Rangers vs. Hurricanes, 12 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Monday, Aug. 3: Rangers vs. Hurricanes, 12 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Hurricanes vs. Rangers, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Thursday, Aug. 6: Hurricanes vs. Rangers*
Saturday, Aug. 8: Rangers vs. Hurricanes*

(7) New York Islanders vs. (10) Florida Panthers

Saturday, Aug. 1: Panthers vs. Islanders, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Panthers vs. Islanders, 12 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Islanders vs. Panthers, 12 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 7: Islanders vs. Panthers*
Sunday, Aug. 9: Panthers vs. Islanders*

More on the NHL Return to Play:

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James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

What is the Islanders’ long-term outlook?

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the New York Islanders.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

The Islanders will need to lock up a couple of critical restricted free agents this upcoming offseason but have a lot of components signed to long-term extensions.

The acquisition of Jean-Gabriel Pageau at the NHL Trade Deadline solidified their depth down the middle for years to come. Mathew Barzal has the potential to blossom into an elite centerman while Brock Nelson and Pageau can flip flop between the second and third line. Heart and soul player Casey Cizikas will continue to anchor the fourth line.

New York also has several of its top-nine wingers in place, including Josh Bailey, Anthony Beauvillier, Jordan Eberle and captain Anders Lee.

The newest addition to the core will be goaltender Ilya Sorokin, who is expected to come to the NHL at the start of next season. The Islanders drafted Sorokin in the third round of the 2014 draft and the Russian netminder has spent the past six seasons in the KHL. He has long been considered one of the best goalies not playing in the NHL. Throughout his career with CSKA, he never finished with a save percentage below .929 and is expected to produce at a similar level in North America.

Islanders goalie coach Mitch Korn has helped develop some of the League’s best goaltenders and Sorokin could be next in line.

Long-Term Needs

While the Islanders have a lot of their core signed to long-term contracts, the organization still needs a high-scoring winger to manufacture offense.

The Carolina Hurricanes swept the Islanders in a second-round series during last year’s postseason as they won four straight and advanced to the Eastern Conference Final. New York only managed to score five goals in those four games and were unable to solve its offensive deficiencies.

The Islanders play a fundamentally sound defensive system but need someone who can create offense on their own to change the momentum within a game. Barzal has a chance to be that type of game-breaker in today’s NHL but you need more than one player with that skillset.

In addition to their lack of offensive punch, the Islanders lost their defensive structure when Adam Pelech was lost for the season in early January. General manager Lou Lamoriello thought he solved the problem with the addition of Andy Greene from the New Jersey Devils but the Islanders went 2-5-4 in the 11 games he played and finished in a seven-game skid.

Coach Barry Trotz and his staff need to examine why the absence of one player impacted their system as much as it did.

Long-Term Strengths

The impact a coach has on any given team has long been disputed, but the effect Trotz has had on the Islanders is undeniable.

Ever since Trotz inked a five-year contract with the orange and blue, he brought a credibility to the team on the ice. The Islanders became one of the most defensively sound teams in the league and instantly became a playoff contender. With Trotz behind the bench, the Islanders will reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs on a consistent basis.

Besides strong leadership behind the bench, the Islanders have developed a strong culture inside the locker room. Players play for one another and there is a system of accountability that was lacking before Trotz arrived.

Overall, the Islanders should be in the playoff discussion for years to come with a disciplined structure, strong goaltending and a true difference-maker behind the bench. However, in order to become a legitimate Stanley Cup contender and not just a team that qualifies for the postseason consistently, they need to add a dynamic forward.

MORE ON THE ISLANDERS:

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Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

NHL on NBCSN: Bruins vs. Islanders in clash of East powers

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Thursday’s matchup between the New York Islanders and Boston Bruins. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Bruins and Islanders head into Thursday in some of the league’s most comfortable playoff positions. Even so, don’t be surprised if recent events leave them both a little unsettled.

Just a bump in the road for the Islanders?

Brushing off a recent stumble should be easier for the Islanders.

Yes, it had to be jarring for Barry Trotz to see his old team, the Nashville Predators, absolutely bash his Islanders 8-3 on Tuesday. Depicting it as an anomaly isn’t very difficult, however, since that loss ended a three game-winning streak, and merely pushed the Isles to an impressive 22-8-2 record.

“You just put it in perspective,” Trotz said on Wednesday, via the Islanders’ website. “We’re not pleased that we lost 8-3, that’s for sure, but you’ve got to put it into the right context. I’ve tried to put every win and loss [in the right context]. I’ve probably been more mad after a couple of wins than an 8-3 loss last night because some games we stunk and we stole the game. Last night it just wasn’t our night.”

Dismissing the challenge isn’t totally appropriate for the Islanders, mind you. The Athletic’s Arthur Staple points out (sub required) that the Islanders allowed two power-play goals in three of their last five games, and could struggle similarly against Boston’s dangerous man advantage.

But the Islanders have less to be concerned about than their opponents.

[COVERAGE OF ISLANDERS – BRUINS BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Bumbling Bruins

Forgive the B’s if they feel like November’s eight-game winning streak is a distant memory.

The Bruins started 2019-20 at a feverishly hot pace, with some of their numbers looking unsustainable. Consider their latest stretch the hockey equivalent of a bill coming due.

Following that eight-game winning streak, the Bruins lost five games in a row from Dec. 5-12. They also began their current four-game homestand with a 4-3 OT loss to lowly Los Angeles on Tuesday.

Panicking altogether would be silly considering Boston’s 21-7-7 record (representing a 10-point edge for the Atlantic Division title), but this team is shooting for more meaningful banners. The Bruins play their next three games at home before the holiday break, and six of their next eight at home overall, so this is a good time to wake up.

Patrice Bergeron indicated to The Athletic’s Joe McDonald (sub required) that the Bruins are aware of the opportunity, and challenge.

“You break it down in small portions and right now it’s four big games before having a couple of days of rest, so leave everything on the line,” Bergeron said. “We know what’s at stake. It’s big points on the table and we’re ready for them.”

Interesting test for Islanders and Bruins

The Bruins and Islanders meet for the first of their three 2019-20 regular season matchups on Thursday. While some might peg the Bruins as a bit more explosive, Islanders defenseman Devon Toews notes enough similarities that this could come down to attention to detail.

“It sounds a lot like us when you look at it,” Toews said about the Bruins’ style and strengths. “We give teams a fit in our own end and they do the same. We’re going to be challenged to create our own opportunities as well as shut their opportunities down. They’ve got great goaltending and we’ve got great goaltending. It’s going to be a battle of little details.”

Kathryn Tappen will anchor Thursday night’s studio coverage with Mike Milbury and Jeremy Roenick. Brendan Burke, AJ Mleczko, and Pierre McGuire will call the action from TD Garden in Boston, Mass.

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James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

In-depth look at Islanders’ seven-game winning streak

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When the New York Islanders stumbled to a 1-3-0 record to start the 2019-20 season, some began to wonder if last year’s magic might run out. Yeah, about that …

With 5-3 win against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday, the Islanders improved their winning streak to seven consecutive games. They already owned the longest winning streak of this young NHL season when they hit six by beating the Senators in a busy contest, so it’s probably fair to argue that they’re the hottest team in the league right now, as this post’s headline posits.

Overall, the Islanders are now 8-3-0 this season.

Here are some interesting numbers from their hot streak, and the season in general.

Incredible in net

Last season, the Islanders enjoyed arguably the best goaltending in the NHL, or at least enjoyed remarkably elite results from Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss. During this seven-game winning streak, they’ve once again been getting lights-out goaltending, this time from Greiss and Semyon Varlamov.

Varlamov has won four of those wins so far, while Greiss grabbed three, with the pair allowing just 14 goals, or just two per contest during this seven-game run. Their save percentages during the streak are nearly identical: Varlamov is at .935 and Greiss at .934.

Islanders head coach Barry Trotz is the reigning Jack Adams Award winner, and sustaining this dominance for another season would really be impressive.

Looking at the underlying numbers, it feels like it could go either way.

On one hand, the Islanders came into Sunday as a bottom-five team in Corsi, Fenwick, and Scoring chance percentages at five-on-five, via Natural Stat Trick. They’re once again a team that ranks high in PDO (save percentage plus shooting percentage), a category that often points to unsustainable luck.

On the other hand, Trotz can make a strong case that it’s all — to some extent — part of the design. The Islanders ranked as a top-10 team in creating more high-danger chances for than against heading into Sunday, so you could credibly argue that the Islanders are emphasizing quality over quantity.

It’s tough to imagine the Islanders’ goalies being this dominant all season long again, even in Trotz’s system … but who knows? Trotz and the Isles are certainly making it tougher and tougher to wave away their successes.

Barzal and a strong power play

If someone told you the Islanders were on a hot streak, you’d probably guess that they were shutting people down, and that Mathew Barzal was lighting opponents up. That’s basically been the case.

Barzal leads the scoring during that seven-game winning streak, collecting nine of his season’s 11 points. You might claim that the Islanders go as Barzal goes, as he only managed an assist in the first four games of the season during that 1-3-0 start, and now he’s back to being explosive.

The Islanders should be as happy about finding answers beyond the obvious as they are about Barzal continuing to be a star. Devon Toews continues to show signs that he was a diamond in the rough; it feels strange to say that considering his hockey-famous last name, but he’s become a steal for the Isles.

The Isles have also manufactured a pretty good power play so far. Interestingly, that unit’s been more successful percentage-wise overall this season (27.8 percent over 11 games) than during the streak (22.2). Either way, it’s worth noting that the Islanders have basically just been breaking even on special teams so far, so they’re not just living off of a power play or penalty kill that’s simply out of this world.

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As with any team on a hot or cold streak, it’s dangerous to read into things too much. That said, Islanders fans and observers, feel free to share your thoughts: do you expect more good thing to come during this season?

I’d argue that the table is set for a short-term feast, at least, with five of their next six games at home.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Previewing the 2019-20 New York Islanders

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(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or worse: The answer to this question depends on how much you think they can repeat what they did a year ago. They are bringing back largely the same team, with the one notable exception being the swapping of Robin Lehner for Semyon Varlamov in goal. If Varlamov can step in and replace what Lehner did, they have a shot to be pretty good again. If he fails to do that, it could mean a significant step backwards. If they are better, it is hard to see them being significantly better. If they are worse, they probably won’t be much worse depending on what Varlamov does.

Strengths: The Islanders have one of the league’s best, most successful head coaches in Barry Trotz and that is always a bonus. The combination of his structured system and some great goaltending made the Islanders the toughest team to score against a year ago. They also have a franchise player in Mathew Barzal who is quickly becomimg an all-around force.

Weaknesses: It is the offense. The good news is they were able to bring back all of their key unrestricted free agent forwards, re-signing Anders Lee, Jordan Eberle, and Brock Nelson. But this was not a particularly dangerous team offensively a year ago and was one of the worst offensive teams to make the playoffs. Barzal should be more productive this season, but they are still going to have to win a lot of close, low-scoring games.

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): You can never be too sure of what Lou Lamorieillo is thinking with his head coaches, but after the turnaround the Islanders had a year ago Trotz would seem to be as secure as any coach in the league. We will put him as a 1.5 out of 10. Normally for a coach in this position it would be a 1, but we are allowing the possibility of Lamoriello doing something bizarre just because … hey … it has happened with him and coaches before.

Three most fascinating players: Barzal, Devon Toews, Josh Ho-Sang

Barzal just because he seems destined to have a bounce back year offensively. His point production regressed in year two but he showed a lot of improvement in other areas and is becoming an outstanding all-around player. If he can get back to an 80-90 point player that would be a huge help to what was an otherwise dull offense a year ago.

Toews did not make his NHL debut until he turned 24 years old, so you could definitely call him a “late bloomer.” He made the most of that opportunity once he finally was able to show what he can do at the NHL level. His quite underlying numbers and ability to move the puck are an asset to the Islanders’ blue line and he could be on the verge of a nice breakout season.

Ho-Sang just because this seems to be the latest make-or-break year for him and the Islanders in what has been a career of make-or-break years. He has talent, the Islanders need difference-makers up front, and he has always produced reasonably well given the lack of minutes he gets when he plays for the Islanders. There is still a chance he can be a long-term part of this team.

Playoffs of Lottery: This is a tricky one because they could easily fit into either group. Some regression should be expected, they did not do much to their roster over the summer, and the goaltending is suddenly a bit of a question. While all of that was happening, a lot of non-playoff teams around them managed to get a lot better on paper. Give the strength of the division around them they seem to be a bubble team, but I am going to say they just barely fall on the wrong side of it due to the lack of offense and the team maybe not being as good at goal prevention as it was a year ago.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.