Lacerations, Losses and Liabilities: Inside the Islanders’ Freefall


The Islanders are now on the on the outside looking in on the playoff conversation, and injureis and missing pieces hold much of the blame. (Courtesy of Flickr)

In the early stages of this season, the New York Islanders went on a 17-game point streak that saw them go 15-0-2 and skyrocket to the top of the NHL standings and power rankings. Ever since, the 2019-20 season has been weird. There have been freak injuries, a rotating black hole among depth forwards and a mediocre record. They are out of a playoff spot at the moment, and the surging teams behind them are making the last 15 games important for the Isles.

Three different players have missed, or are missing, a significant chunk of time due to skate lacerations. Getting cut with a skate isn’t necessarily rare, but having to miss multiple weeks because of it and for it to happen to three different players in a season is unprecedented. The first came in late December when Cal Clutterbuck got his wrist sliced in a game against the Bruins. He came back after missing 30 games to face Boston on Feb. 29. The second instance was when Casey Cizikas’ leg got cut right at the beginning of the game against Philly on Feb. 11. Saturday’s game against Carolina was his 12th game not in the lineup, and no timetable has been set for his return. The scariest was Johnny Boychuk, who caught a blade to the eyelid against Montreal last week. Again, there is no timetable, but he was given 90 stitches after the game and is doing well. Freak incidents have three key players missing time and making the job harder for the rest of the team. Obviously, the hope is that Cizikas and Boychuk are healthy and can get back with the team for the playoff push.

Because of the Clutterbuck and Cizikas injuries, the bottom six forward group, which these two usually anchor, is in flux. General manager Lou Lamoriello made a move at the deadline for center J-G Pageau to help with that, and he has, scoring a couple of goals in his first week with the team. The issue is more along the wings, where low-level NHL players Michael Dal Colle, Tom Khunackle, Matt Martin, Andrew Ladd, Ross Johnston, Leo Komarov and others leave a gaping hole in offensive production that leaves a lot to be desired. The depth forwards were key to the Isles playoff appearances in 2019, 2016 and 2015, and that heart and soul type of player is missing without Cizikas in the lineup. 

The losses are continuing to pile up for the Islanders. However, they’ve gotten lucky, as the Rangers’ recent injuries have them reeling. Pittsburgh and Washington have both struggled as of late and the team right behind them in Columbus has had trouble holding on to leads. With 15 games left in the season after Saturday’s loss against Carolina, they need to finish well above .500 in those games in order to solidify their spot in the playoff race. Carolina, Columbus and the two New York teams are competing for two spots right now, and the Isles cannot rely on two teams to falter to allow themselves to back into a spot. It is time for the Islanders to build momentum, win some games and get on a little hot streak headed into the playoffs.