Islanders are off to the necessary fast start in short season
A good start is so important for the Islanders this year, given the NHL’s shortened 56-game regular season and the fact that only half of the East Division’s eight teams will qualify for the playoffs.
The ingredients for a sustained good start — and we’re not promising the franchise-record 17-game point streak (15-0-2) they enjoyed in the first two months of the 2019-20 season that fueled a run to the Eastern Conference finals — have been evident in the 3-1-0 Islanders’ first three wins.
Mathew Barzal’s top line with Jordan Eberle and Anders Lee has controlled the pace for extended stretches, with noted slow starter Eberle scoring twice against the Devils.
Second-year defenseman Noah Dobson, who had two assists on Thursday, is growing into his full-time role and quarterbacking the first power-play unit. The Islanders were 2-for-3 on the power play on Thursday after starting the season 2-for-17.
Semyon Varlamov is 3-0-0 with a 0.33 goals-against average and .988 save percentage. His shutout streak of 142:10 to start the season was the eighth best in NHL history and an Islanders record.
"I think the last two years he has been pretty consistent the whole way through," said Barzal, who had a goal and two assists against the Devils. "To start the season, it’s really nice to see him come back and dominate in the net. He looks calm."
Barzal fired a blistering shot over Scott Wedgewood’s shoulder in Thursday’s first period. His willingness to shoot more also is crucial.
"He could be a 30- to 40-goal scorer if he had that mentality to shoot the puck," coach Barry Trotz said. "He’s been a pass-first type of guy. But I think being dangerous by shooting the puck, you can then open yourself up for more opportunities to pass the puck. He’s worked on that."
The Isles will complete a home-and-home series against the Devils on Sunday night at Prudential Center after a thorough 4-1 win on Thursday night at Nassau Coliseum.
They then will play Tuesday and Thursday nights at Washington, and the Capitals are expected to be without Alex Ovechkin, No. 1 goalie Ilya Samsonov, top-six center Evgeny Kuznetsov and defenseman Dmitry Orlov, all on the NHL’s COVID-absence list because of protocol violations. Samsonov has tested positive.
The Islanders then will play back-to-back games in Philadelphia next weekend to conclude a stretch of seven of their first nine on the road.
Notes & quotes: The AHL announced a 24-game schedule from Feb. 5-May 8 for the Islanders’ Bridgeport affiliate, solely against Hartford and Providence, the two other Atlantic Division teams. Fans will not be allowed in any of those three buildings . . . Andrew Ladd, in the fifth season of a seven-year, $38.5 million deal and not on the Islanders’ roster nor their taxi squad, also is not included on the Sound Tigers’ 28-man training camp roster. His contract is considered buried. That gives the Islanders $1.075 million of salary cap relief, though Ladd still counts $4.43 million toward the cap . . . The Islanders did not practice Friday.