The Islanders find themselves with quite a hill to climb against the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning in their semi-final playoff series.
With a place in the final on the line, maybe you’re pointing to some very questionable calls in both games two and three, in addition to icings apparently being thrown into the mix, as the reason New York is down two games to one in the series.
But, it’s not.
They simply need to score more goals.
I know it sounds very simplistic, but it’s now evident that the Islanders came into this series as the highest-scoring team in the playoffs riding the back of some very poor goaltending by Tristian Jarry and a torn labrum injury to Tuuka Rask.
Andrei Vasilevskiy is arguably the best goaltender in the entire league and is not at all phased by the gravity of the moment nor playing through any sort of injury. When the Islanders have been able to punch through for quality scoring chances, he has been there, steadfast as he was in stopping Anthony Beauvillier late in the second period of game two and Kyle Palmieri in the first period last night.
Big moments. Big saves. In games that have proven to be as tight as the ones we’ve witnessed in this series, they make all the difference when you’re playing a team that simply knows how to lock it down, as Tampa did last night.
New York was ‘credited’ last night with 14 high danger scoring chances 5v5, via Natural Stat Trick. Can you remember the 14? I certainly can’t and get the feeling that number might be a bit generous. The reality is once Tampa got their lead, on a late second-period goal by the seemingly unstoppable Brayden Point, they locked it down as champions do. Clogged the middle, blocked shots and didn’t let anything penetrate the slot.
With Semyon Varlamov pulled and two minutes left, New York generated absolutely nothing.
So, where does head coach Barry Trotz go from here, now faced with having to beat Tampa three out of four games?
Take a trip to Wally World
Since being injured in the second round against the Boston Bruins, Oliver Wahlstrom has been rehabbing a knee injury. Now recovered, he has been practicing with the team and taking part in pre-game warmups for the better part of the last week. The Islanders can certainly use his carefree shooting style in forcing more pucks at the Tampa net, especially if they can find a way to generate more traffic in front of Vasilevskiy.
On the power play is where his impact could be felt the most, as New York generally stocks their five-man unit with a pass-first mentality. Where one goal typically decides playoff games between two almost evenly matched teams, it makes all the difference between winning and losing.
As Trotz himself proclaimed after last night’s defeat, “At the end of the day, it’s a pretty even game, they just capitalized on a scramble at the end of a power play. Its a fine line between winning or losing this time of year.”
That fine line could be assigned number 26.
Continue to stay disciplined
New York played clean, calm and disciplined in their Game 1 victory. Game 2 brought about a struggle to maintain that composure as Tampa initiated scrums at every opportunity. Even though Tampa only got the one power-play goal by Victor Hedman, putting a team like the Lightning on the man advantage five times is not a recipe for success against them.
Last night, the Islanders got back to their composure, only taking the one penalty assessed to Adam Pelech. It allowed them to play almost the entire game 5v5, which when you break down film of the first three games of this series, is a situation I like the Islanders to be very competitive in, almost level with Tampa.
Maybe a little juggling?
No, I’m not talking about him taking his act on the road in a traveling circus. But, as tough as it may sound at this time of the playoffs to be switching up line combinations, it might provide the spark New York needs to produce more than a meager five goals in three games.
If Wahlstrom is re-introduced, does Leo Komarov come out? He has done a fine job defensively in the playoffs and Trotz believes this allows Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle to be more creative, but he did flub a tremendous scoring chance handed to him off an Eberle pass in the third period. Maybe someone with more offensive skill, be it either Ollie or Travis Zajac, converts and ties the game. Fine line, remember?
Does Zajac come out? He has shown tremendous chemistry with J.G Pageau and Palmieri on the third line, but Tampa just possesses too much speed up and down their lineup and there are times where Zajac looks as if he is struggling to keep up.
The Islanders second line of Brock Nelson, Anthony Beauvillier and Josh Bailey have only a Bailey assist on Barzal’s breakaway goal in game one and a power-play goal by Nelson in game two.
On defense, there really isn’t much you can do. Pelech, almost perfect all playoffs, has just picked a bad time to make a couple of mistakes. Nick Leddy looks as if he’s aged 10 years, his trademark speed becoming less a factor as he loses more than half the board battles presented to him in the defensive zone. His brief lapse partially cost the Islanders on the Yanni Gourde goal to open the scoring. More minutes for Noah Dobson means putting up with the natural and normal imperfection that still exists in his game, as he continues to grow.
This series is not over. Not by any means.
It has just become more of an uphill battle than the Islanders have faced this year.
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