For the final “new” Sabres divisional opponent breakdown before the season starts, we breakdown what to expect to see from the New York Islanders.
With the season starting later this week for the Buffalo Sabres, it gives us just enough time to breakdown the final “new” divisional opponent for the Sabres in the 2021 season, the New York Islanders. (We never covered the Bruins because we are division rivals with them every year anyway.)
The Islanders finished last season with a 35-23-10 record, which was good for fifth in the Metropolitan Division. But they surprised a lot of people once the NHL restarted and the Stanley Cup Playoffs began. They made a deep run to the Eastern Conference Finals but fell to the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games. But they proved that they are a team that should be expected to make some noise this season.
They currently have the fifth-best odds to win the new East Division title this season. They open with +600 odds to win the division, according to sportsbettingdime.com.
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Starting with the Islanders offense, it was not anything to write home about last season. They were 22nd in the league with 2.78 goals per game. But they did recently re-sign star forward Mathew Barzal to a three-year deal worth $21 million. So the Islanders top line will most likely be Barzal alongside captain Anders Lee and veteran Jordan Eberle.
Defensively, New York looked decent at first glance. They ranked ninth in the league in goals allowed per game at 2.79. But if you looked a little deeper at some more advanced stats, it showed some problems with the Islanders defense. They ranked 24th in scoring chances against and 21st in average shot differential at -1.6. But the main goal of the defense is to keep the puck out of the net, and the Islanders were a top-10 team at that last season.
New York will be returning almost the entirely same defensive line up as last year, minus Devon Toews. Toews ended up heading to Colorado this offseason to play with the Avalanche.
The Islanders also lost starting goaltender Thomas Greiss to the Red Wings in free agency. So the netminding duties will fall on the shoulders of Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin. Varlamov started 39 games last year for the Islanders and posted a 2.62 goals against average (GAA) and a .914 save percentage (SV%).
Sorokin will be a rookie this season but has been elite in the KHL in his time there. Since 2015, he has only posted a GAA above 2.00 in two seasons. The Islanders will definitely be looking for him to carry some of his momentum from the KHL into the NHL this season.
You can just add the New York Islanders to the list of teams that will be really good in the East Division in 2021. The Islanders are a team (along with almost the entire rest of the east) that people would expect to make the playoffs in a normal year. So the road to the playoffs doesn’t get any easier when the Sabres face the Islanders.