Welcome to 2022!
The Oilers had a difficult finish to 2021, dropping back-to-back games out of the Christmas break along with a six-game losing skid earlier in the month. Let’s hope they can get back on track in January.
1. The 2021-22 season has been a disaster for the New York Islanders, a team that was expected to go on another deep playoff run come spring. The Islanders reached the Conference Final in back-to-back years but lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the eventual Stanley Cup Champions, both times. This year, it doesn’t even look like they’ll make the playoffs. They’re 9-12-6 and sit dead last in the very competitive Metro Division.
2. The Islanders started off the season on a massive 13-game road trip while their new stadium at Belmont Park was being completed. They put together a respectable 5-6-2 record to kick things off but have fallen off a cliff since returning home. Their first win at UBS Arena didn’t come until their eighth home game on December 11, dropping their first six games at their new home. All told, since ending that massive road trip, the Islanders have gone 4-6-4.
3. Another major challenge for the Islanders this season has been dealing with COVID-19 protocol. The majority of New York’s roster has tested positive for COVID-19 at some point this season. The only ones who haven’t are J-G Pageau, Kyle Palmieri, Scott Mayfield, Noah Dobson, Ryan Pulock, and goaltenders Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov.
4. The Islanders’ strength this season has been defence and goaltending, just as it has been in each year of the Barry Trotz era. The team ranks 6th in the league with 78 goals against, an average of 2.8 goals against per game. Sorokin and Varlamov have posted a .921 save percentage combined.
5. Their biggest issue has been scoring goals, as the Islanders rank dead last in the league with just 61 goals scored, an average of 2.2 goals per game. Their leading scorer is Mat Barzal with 20 points in 24 games and then the list drops to Oliver Wahlstrom, who has 15 points in 26 games. There have been some major underachievers on this team this year, such as Kyle Palmieri, who has just seven points in 25 games. That’s not ideal for a guy with a $5 million cap hit.
6. The Islanders came out of the Christmas break on Thursday with a commanding 4-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres. Only five times in 27 games this season have the Islanders scored four goals or more. Barzal scored three points in that win, which represents his highest single-game total of the season. 44-year-old Zdeno Chara led the team in time on ice with 22:11 and Varlamov made 36 saves.
7. The Oilers have dropped back-to-back games out of the Christmas break. First came a loss in regulation to the St. Louis Blues and then they lost in overtime in New Jersey to the Devils after blowing a late lead. Mike Smith has started in both games and has looked very rusty, which isn’t surprising given he’s 39 years old and missed three months of play. Since coming off the Injured Reserve, Smith has allowed 10 goals on 74 shots.
8. The big question is why the Oilers didn’t have Smith do a conditioning stint with the Bakersfield Condors before returning to the team. It makes sense that he’s a little bit rusty, so giving him a couple of games in the minors before coming back and facing NHL shots would have made sense. Stuart Skinner was playing well, so this isn’t like last year when the Oilers badly needed Smith back in order to give Mikko Koskinen a break.
9. Regardless, it’ll be Koskinen starting today against the Islanders, the team that drafted him with the No. 31 overall pick in the 2009 draft. The Islanders had quite a draft that year. They chose John Tavares No. 1 overall, Calvin de Haan No. 12, and they grabbed Casey Cizikas and Anders Lee in the fourth and sixth rounds respectively. The Islanders drafted two goalies that year and both of them wound up playing for the Oilers, Koskinen and Anders Nilsson.
10. Koskinen has faced his former club three times in his career now. The first came back in February of 2019 and he allowed four goals on 23 shots in a loss. The second came days later and he allowed three goals on 23 shots and won. Koskinen’s best outing against the Islanders was his 2019-20 debut, as he stopped 25 of 27 shots in a 5-2 win.
11. The Oilers badly need a win here. They have just two wins in their last 10 games and now sit at 18-12-1. Their 9-1-0 start to the season afford them some room for error later on but they can’t ride that hot streak forever. Their next two games are against strong teams, the New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs, so the Oilers need to take care of business against the Islanders. Edmonton is only two points up on the L.A. Kings and San Jose Sharks with one game in hand and the Vancouver Canucks are surging as well.
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