The Grateful Dead once sang, “What a long, strange trip it’s been” … and the New York Islanders can certainly relate.
New York will end its season-opening, 13-game road trip on Tuesday night against the Florida Panthers.
So far, the Islanders are 5-5-2 on the journey, but they have lost three consecutive games.
“We have some guys who aren’t pulling on the rope as much as they need to,” New York coach Barry Trotz said. “We’re not playing systematic Islanders hockey.”
The Islanders, who have made it to at least Game 6 of the Stanley Cup semifinals in each of the past two years, have scored just five goals in their past four games.
Brock Nelson leads the Islanders in goals (seven) and points (nine). Josh Bailey and Kyle Palmieri are tied for the team lead with five assists each.
The strength of the New York team is its defense, and that includes 26-year-old goalie Ilya Sorokin, who has started 10 of New York’s 12 games. He is 5-3-2 with a 2.18 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage.
Meanwhile, the Panthers are in a slump after starting the season as the hottest team in the NHL. After their 10-0-1 league-best start, they have lost four straight games, picking up just two out of a possible eight points.
All four of those defeats came on the road.
“These are the ebbs and flows of an NHL season,” Panthers interim coach Andrew Brunette said. “We realize it’s a hard, hard league.”
Despite the losing streak, Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov has played well. He has at least one point in nine straight games, accumulating seven goals and four assists in that span.
For the season, Barkov leads the Panthers in goals (nine) and points (16).
Jonathan Huberdeau and surprising defenseman Gustav Forsling are tied for the club lead with 10 assists each. Huberdeau also leads the team with four power-play assists.
Anthony Duclair tops the Panthers with a plus-12 rating.
Florida’s defensemen have been outstanding this season. Aside from Forsling, the list includes Aaron Ekblad, Radko Gudas and McKenzie Weegar.
The Panthers have split their goaltending duties fairly evenly between veteran Sergei Bobrovsky (nine starts) and rookie Spencer Knight (six starts).
Bobrovsky is 6-0-2 with a sterling 1.88 GAA and a .940 save percentage. Knight is 4-2-1 with a 3.27 GAA and an .887 save percentage.
The Panthers, with the help of Sam Bennett’s three goals, blasted the Islanders 5-1 on Oct. 16. This will be the teams’ second meeting this season, and Florida will rely on its speed and young legs in a battle of contrasts.
In fact, two of New York’s six defensemen in the Islanders’ 4-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday were graybeards: Zdeno Chara, 44, and Andy Greene, 39.
Greene raised his tally of NHL games played to an even 1,000. Once an undrafted free agent out of Miami (Ohio), Greene is highly popular with his teammates.
“He’s been huge for us,” Bailey said of Greene. “I can’t say enough good things. You can see why he’s been around for so long. He’s a character player and person.”
–Field Level Media