ONLY IN AMNEWYORK
EAST MEADOW — Kyle Palmieri understood that he was going to have to tweak his style of play when he was traded by the New Jersey Devils to the New York Islanders two years ago.
While the Devils played a faster, offensive brand of play, they were near the cellar of the Metropolitan Division while the Islanders were at the top of the heap and preparing for the postseason.
“You come over and you want to kind of just fit into that structure and be an impact but also find a way to contribute inside the structure,” Palmieri told amNewYork. “I’d have played the Islanders for a while and you knew the detail they played with. Coming into that, I knew kind of what to expect. But it’s something that I wanted to come over and make an impact and be a player that would help this team win.”
This was a player during a five-year stretch with the Devils from 2015-2020 that averaged 26 goals per season, hitting the 30-mark in 2015-16. He was also one of just 41 NHL forwards to average 0.36 goals per game or more during that stretch and a winger that was seen as a way to boost a defense-first Islanders side that needed an influx of goals.
While he scored seven goals in the playoffs to help the Islanders make the Eastern Conference Final for a second-straight season — “it was something I missed a lot and got the opportunity to come in and we had a great run,” he said — his start to life with the Islanders has been rife with hurdles. He scored just two goals in 17 regular-season games after being acquired from New Jersey at the trade deadline in February of 2021.
In 69 games last season, he scored 15 times while dealing with injuries and a bout with COVID, including a 29-game stretch to start the campaign in which he scored just one goal.
“Obviously, there are some expectations but for the most part, I wanted to just find my footing and be a reliable player day in and day out,” Palmieri said. “You look at the start to last year and obviously, the goals weren’t there. There were games I liked the way I was playing, but obviously, I had to try and find a way to contribute and get on the scoresheet, which I wasn’t able to do so…
“You never want to go that long without scoring or only scoring once or twice but you just find a way to get out of it. You know it’s going to end eventually but just kind of go out there and work hard and try and get better every day. That’s what we try and do as hockey players and it doesn’t matter how old you are to do it and it’s the challenge every day.”
That challenge once again arose this season when Palmieri posted six goals and three assists in 21 games at the start of 2022-23 before he missed five weeks due to an upper-body injury.
The mental side of hockey is one that isn’t talked about enough, especially when it comes to a scorer in a slump. A talent that is used to flirting with 30 goals per season has to find a way to barrel his way through lean score sheets and — sometimes even worse — the vitriol that comes from an impatient fan base whose voices are amplified by social media.
The noise on Twitter is something you’ll hear most athletes turn a blind eye to, and rightfully so — shrugging it off as something that doesn’t necessarily faze them.
Palmieri is one that doesn’t pay attention to it, but he isn’t shy about voicing his disdain for it.
“I think you can get caught up with Twitter and all the different s—t that’s out there but at the end of the day, it’s for the most part just s—t,” Palmieri said. “You could turn a blind eye, you could read it, you can even get motivation from it if you want to do it mentally, but I think at the end of the day, you’re going in there and you’re working hard and you’re trying to make yourself and your teammates better.
“Sometimes that type of stuff doesn’t show up on a score sheet. People can say what they want about you but you want to have the respect of your teammates and make sure you’re not shortchanging anything on that end.”
In that respect, consistency has proven to be key and it’s beginning to show positive results on the scoresheet.
Upon his return from injury on Jan. 23, Palmieri’s statline has resembled more of its old New Jersey self to compliment his now-established Islanders style of play. Entering Tuesday night against the Maple Leafs, he had 22 points in his last 30 games including five goals and five assists (10 points) in a six-game stretch from March 15-27.
“You know it’s going to end and things are going start bouncing your way and you just kind of stick your way through it,” Palmieri said. “Scoring — with the exception of some really great players — a lot of times comes in bunches and you kind of ride those waves. But you’re not going to score every game so being able to contribute and do things that don’t show up there is something that you have to learn how to do.”