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5 keys for the Islanders entering the 2021-22 NHL season

Semyon Varlamov #40 of the New York Islanders

Semyon Varlamov #40 of the New York Islanders makes a save against the Boston Bruins in Game Three of the Second Round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Nassau Coliseum on Thursday, June 3, 2021 in Uniondale, New York. Credit: Jim McIsaac

1. THE RETURN OF ANDERS LEE

The captain has recovered from the torn right anterior cruciate ligament that ended last season for him on March 11. It’s easy to speculate that Lee’s net-front presence could have been the difference in the Islanders’ seven-game loss to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Lightning in the NHL semifinals. His return bolsters both Mathew Barzal’s top line and, theoretically, a power play that has struggled under coach Barry Trotz.

2. SEMYON VARLAMOV’S HEALTH

There’s no telling when the Islanders’ No. 1 goalie will make his regular-season debut as unspecified soreness has kept him out of the lineup — and out of practices — throughout training camp. Trotz proclaims no concern that Varlamov’s absence will be long term and says the Islanders are just being cautious to make sure he’s healthy for the bulk of the long regular season. Still, a lot of the early-season work will fall to Ilya Sorokin.

3. SURVIVING THE ROAD TRIP

UBS Arena at Belmont Park is scheduled to host its first game on Nov. 20. That leaves the Islanders with a daunting 13-game road trip over five weeks to open the season. True, they will return to New York several times during that span, but the Islanders were 11-13-4 on the road last season. A bad opening road trip would be a deep standings hole to overcome.

4. WHAT DOES ZACH PARISE HAVE LEFT?

The 37-year-old Parise, mainly a top-six forward throughout his career, signed a one-year deal after the Wild bought out the final four seasons of his 13-year, $98 million deal. He had only seven goals and 18 assists in 45 games last season but will be in a more manageable third-line role and see power-play time.

5. KEEPING THE DEFENSEMEN FRESH

Trotz essentially stuck with his top six last season. More depth may be crucial this season to keep future Hall of Famer Zdeno Chara, 44, and Andy Greene, 38, optimally productive throughout the season.

— ANDREW GROSS

New York Sports