The Need to Knows
The Time: 5pm PT
The Place: Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, Washington
Place to Watch: ESPN, ESPN+, Sportsnet+ in Canada, TVAS (if you can speak French, anyway)
Place to Listen: KJR 93.3
An opposing viewpoint: Lighthouse Hockey
Know Your Enemy
The New York Islanders were, for a very long time, one of the league’s worst run franchises. While in the distant past, they hold claim to one of the great dynasties of all time, the team struggled throughout the 1980s and 90s, and then only seemed to make headlines for the wrong reasons this millennium. Here, and here, and here are three examples that I won’t go into for the purposes of this preview, because today’s story is that they’ve gotten past all of that.
While they missed the playoffs last year, the two prior they had decent post-season runs, and today they’re right in the thick of things in the Metropolitan division. Led by Brock Nelson and Matthew Barzal, the forward group is deep and talented (hence the reason Jordan Eberle was available during Expansion). Ten players on the Isles have 6 or more goals this season, and while the Kraken close behind with nine, the Islanders’ recipe for success has a secret ingredient:
Goaltending! Ilya Sorokin, the 27 year old Russian netminder, came over from the KHL back in 2020-21 and has proven he can play in the world’s biggest league. He sits fourth in the league in Goals Against (2.26) and boasts an impressive 0.926 save percentage. He will be 28 when his current contract expires and, barring a statistical collapse, should be a highly sought after free agent in the summer of 2024.
The rest of the Islanders back end is led by homegrown talent Ryan Pulock and young up-and-comer Noah Dobson. Pulock is the reliable sort, whose numbers won’t blow you away, while Dobson has more offensive upside. Behind them are a steady group that includes former Hab Alexander Romanov, longtime Islander Scott Mayfield, and the league’s other Sebastian Aho.
The Islanders are top ten in shot generation at 31.5/game but allow a similar volume on their own net, trusting in their goalie to tilt the odds. They have a good PK and a lackluster powerplay, and while that may be surprising given some of the names on their roster, it speaks to strong 5-on-5 play. If the Islanders’ powerplay ever does click, they’ll be tough to beat on any night. So the Kraken will be wise to stay out of the box.
On Seattle’s side, neither starting goalie had a great game versus Edmonton. Grubauer was pulled, allowing three goals in such a short span that he probably didn’t even need to shower, and while Jones handled the remaining 56, “handled” is perhaps overly generous. Whoever gets the nod against the Isles will need to be better, but the team’s overall defensive structure has to improve as well. The team still has games in hand on divisional rivals who have closed the gap in terms of standings points, but they need to win those games in order for that to matter.
Two hard working teams with post-season aspirations will meet on the ice at Climate Pledge Arena. The game will not be an easy one and the margin of error will be thin, but with all that said, the Islanders are not a Stanley Cup favorite. They’re beatable, and the Kraken need to find a way to do so if they want to finish 2022 on a high note.