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Islanders to Face Capitals in First Round of Stanley Cup Playoffs

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Capitals

Barry Trotz once told the Washington Capitals that’d have to “go through the Island” to win another Stanley Cup Championship. That will be the case this year after the Capitals defeated the Boston Bruins on Sunday in their final Round Robin game.

It will be the first time the two clubs have seen each other since the Capitals defeated the Islanders in the first round of the 2015 playoffs. Behind the bench back then for the Caps was none other than current Islanders bench boss Barry Trotz.

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“I think it will be a hell of a series,” Trotz said. “Both teams are well equipped to go at each other.”

The series will mark the first time the Islanders and Capitals face one another since the two met in February. The Caps and Isles split the season series 2-2-0 and are 4-4-0 against the Capitals since Trotz took over coaching in 2018.

The Series will not be short of storylines when it begins next week.

The Capitals handed the Islanders one of their worst losses of the regular season this year on Jan. 18. The Islanders had taken a 4-1 lead into the third period at Nassau Coliseum, but the Capitals rallied in the final 20 minutes led by Alex Ovechkin to win the game 6-4.

Trotz is also quite familiar with the Capitals having coached there for four seasons before joining the Islanders just weeks after winning the Stanley Cup with Washington. That makes Trotz quite familiar with the Capitals roster.

“That group as a lot of pedigree. They got a lot of star power,” Trotz said. “They won a championship, so they’re well equipped in a lot of areas. The biggest challenge is to play them even and play them hard. They’ll  do the same because I know a lot about that group.”

The Capitals dropped their first two games of the Round Robin before defeating the Bruins on Sunday afternoon.

Washington had been one of the best teams during the regular season. They went 40-21-8 before the season was halted and had averaged 3.42 goals per game. The Capitals 237 goals were fourth-most in the league during the regular season.

“They’re both really solid teams,” Jean-Gabriel Pageau said when asked about facing either the Capitals and Bruins. “Obviously they had a great season. They’re two teams that play the right way and works hard.”

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New York Islanders

Islanders May Already Have Internal Pieces to Improve

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New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning

In this new flat-cap era, however long it might be, the New York Islanders are in a holding pattern.

With around just $8.9 million in cap space, as it stands, the team doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room to make many additions to improve upon the roster.

The Islanders, being a win-now team, were right on the cusp with their first trip to the Eastern Conference Final in 27 years. With restricted free agents Mathew Barzal and Ryan Pulock, it’s going to take plenty of maneuvering from Lou Lamoriello for New York to take that leap and reach their first Stanley Cup Final since 1984.

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That being said, it’s not likely that the Islanders would bring in another playmaker to improve upon the 2019-20 season. For them to meet or exceed expectations once the New Year rolls around, it’s going to take positive steps from a group of their homegrown players.

Especially if the Islanders don’t re-sign Derick Brassard or end up dealing Leo Komarov as part of cap shedding, that’s going to leave valuable ice time, largely on that third line.

Future Islanders? Three Bridgeport Sound Tigers to Keep an Eye on | NYHN+

This potentially leaves the door open for the likes of Oliver Wahlstrom and Kieffer Bellows.

Wahlstrom, who notched 22 points in 45 games in Bridgeport, showed some of that offensive promise in a nine-game stint with the Islanders, though he failed to register a point. The Athletic recently ranked the forward as the 105th best player under the age of 23.

He’s got all the capabilities to become a dynamic offensive force for the Islanders once he’s fully acclimated to Barry Trotz’s system, which was part of why he had an extended stay in the AHL last year. He’s currently playing in Sweden, though did suffer a tough injury that will likely keep him sidelined week to week, per Eyes on Isles

Though Wahlstrom still is working on the details and the defensive side of the game, his ability to create plays and score with the puck makes him a valuable option for the Islanders. Similar things could be said of Bellows, whose impressive shooting skills have helped him score 34 goals over the last two seasons in the AHL.

Bellows was disciplined earlier this year for violating the AHL/Professional Hockey Players’ Association performance-enhancing substances program. Having already served his penalty, Bellows could vie for a more prominent role with the team in 2021. During the regular season, the Islanders ranked 22nd in the NHL with 2.78 goals per game.

They were better in a shorter postseason sample with a 3.00 goals a game clip, but the Islanders are going to need continued scoring threats and depth for them to maintain any sort of momentum from their playoff run. That’s where Bellows and his well-regarded shot could come into play.

There’s also the polarizing and enigmatic forward Josh Ho-Sang. The Islanders extended a qualifying offer to him, but he’s elected to go to arbitration at the end of October. It remains to be seen what will come of that situation, especially if Ho-Sang ends up waived or still wants to be traded.

But the Islanders don’t have a ton of Minor League plug-and-play depth to get any more scoring, so Ho-Sang could end up being a helpful addition to the bottom six. While his traditional offensive numbers (24 points in 53 NHL games) are not eye-popping, he’s had solid possession metrics with the Islanders. He owns a 51.3 percent Corsi for and a 2.6 percent Corsi relative. In short, the Islanders have been a better team with him on the ice. There’s little doubting his NHL skill.

But clashes with the coaching staff and front office have largely dominated his tenure in New York, so it’ll be interesting to see what ends up coming of his arbitration hearing.

The New York Islanders are in a bit of a bind until they can find salary cap room. But the good news is they might already have the help they need.

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New York Islanders

Can Dobson, Greene Really Fill Hole Left After Toews Trade?

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Noah Dobson

Going into this unique offseason, it was apparent the New York Islanders had difficult decisions to make with the flat cap.

That first real casualty came in the form of trading defenseman Devon Toews to the Colorado Avalanche for a pair of second-round draft picks.

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As was posited on this site before the start of free agency, the Islanders didn’t have a ton of space to make a splashy move and Lou Lamoriello needed to keep his focus on the team’s own restricted free agents. By dealing Toews, it left the Islanders more room in the future with cap space. In the short run, it doesn’t affect the cap space the team has this offseason, but it could help them make moves to free up some space.

But the Islanders also had to consider what the contracts they would end up paying out to their other big restricted free agents — Ryan Pulock and Mathew Barzal. Coupled with uncertainty of what the salary cap situation for the entire league might look like over the next few years, the Toews trade makes sense under that context.

Devon Toews Traded to Colorado for Second Round Picks

“Any time you see one of your friends and teammates traded, it sucks,’’ Anders Lee said this earlier week. “It’s not fun. It’s part of our business, that side of it. Devon is a great guy and a great player, and you wish him nothing but the best in Colorado.”

On its face, the loss of Toews is a tough one for the Islanders for a number of reasons. He was a key piece on the power play and he excelled in his possession metrics.

According to Hockey Reference, Toews had a 6.1 Corsi relative percentage last season, which was the best among the team’s defensemen. It did take a dip to 1.1 percent in New York’s extended postseason run and he struggled in the Eastern Conference Final, but Toews was an integral puck-moving blue liner for the Islanders the last two seasons.

So where do the Islanders get those minutes and production from now that Toews is in another uniform?

Well, the easy answer is to say Noah Dobson comes in and becomes a full-time player after an impressive 34-game stint in 2019-20. In fact, Dobson’s 4.8 Corsi relative percentage was the best among Islanders defenseman after Toews, albeit in about half the games played.

But Dobson’s pedigree and ability to play well within the defensive zone have made him a valuable piece of the puzzle going forward. When the Islanders made the deal with Colorado, Lamoriello said the team would not have even considered the move had they not had Dobson already in the mix.

“We would not have made this move if the ice time that Devon received, we didn’t have the ability to put a player into that,” Lamoriello said. “And Noah Dobson, we feel, is certainly ready to take the next step.”

The issue here is Dobson is a right-handed defenseman, so it’s pretty safe to assume he won’t be sliding to the left side. So that leaves the Islanders with a hole on the left. Andy Greene will likely don orange and blue next season and would be the top candidate to play alongside Dobson from the outset. But in turning 38 this coming season, it will be interesting to see what Greene can provide not only in minutes but in quality play down the stretch.

The Islanders did re-up with left-handed shooting Sebastian Aho earlier this month, and though he only has 22 NHL games under his belt, he’s still just 24 years old and gives the Islanders a little more depth on the left side.

There are options to fill the hole on defense, but there are plenty of question marks if the Islanders can still replicate — or get close to — the numbers Toews had with the New York Islanders.

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New York Islanders

Islanders TV Voice Brendan Burke Recalls Memories with Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick

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Brendan Burke along side Mike "Doc" Emrick at Barclays Center

New York Islanders TV broadcaster Brenden Burke had just walked out of the Barclays Center feeling pretty good.

It was the night of Oct. 16, 2016 and the Islanders had just defeated the Anaheim Ducks 3-2 in overtime off a goal from Josh Bailey for their first win of the 2016-17 season. It had been Burke’s first big moment as the television voice of the New York Islanders and he was particularly happy with the call he had.

Burke packed up his things and walked back to his home at the time in Brooklyn. It was then that he got a surprise email that capped the memorable night for the young broadcaster.

“I pulled out my phone as I was walking back and I think the NHL had tweeted out the highlight,” Burke said during a phone interview with NYI Hockey Now. “I felt really good about what I had done in that first real test and then I’m still on my walk home and a couple of minutes later my phone buzzes. It’s an email from (Mike Emrick) that says ‘hey you sound great.’  To have that on top of already feeling good about it, and then to have the guy who you think is the best broadcaster in the world tell you so is a very special moment for me.”

The goal and the email from legendary broadcaster Mike “Doc” Emrick have gone hand in hand in the mind of Burke since it happened, and it was a memory that came to mind on Monday when Emrick announced he was retiring from broadcasting. Emrick has called NHL games for the last 47 years and has been the voice of the league for the last 15 calling games nationally for NBC.

Emrick is regarded as one of the greatest broadcasters in all of sports and has called 22 Stanley Cup Finals, 45 Stanley Cup Playoff game sevens, six Olympics, 14 NHL All-Star Games and 19 NHL Winter Classics and Stadium Series games.

“He’s the best,” Burke said. “He became as big as the sport. You’re talking about a guy who won seven or eight straight sports play-by-play Emmys up against the Joe Bucks and Ian Eagles and the big guys. The guys that do the other big sports and he beats them all every year. … I love not only what he’s done for broadcasting and for the profession, but for the sport of hockey and elevating it to another level.”

Emrick’s overlap with the Islanders has been limited on the national stage. Emrick also served as the TV voice of the New Jersey Devils for 21.

Emrick famously called the Easter Epic on ESPN and was behind the mic for John Tavares’ game-winning goal in Game 3 of the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2015. Emrick noted the atmosphere at the Nassau Coliseum that game during his retirement conference call on Monday.

Mike Emrick was also on hand to call an early regular-season game in November of 2016 between the Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins. Sitting next to Emrick for the night to shadow the Hall-of-Famer was Burke.

“Just to see him go through the mechanics of (broadcasting), to see the notes that he had, to see what he has scripted out and what is off the top of his head,” Burke said while describing that night. “Just to see the way he goes about the game and interacts with his analysts when they’re off the air. The communication with him and the producer. I think I was 20 games into my television tenure and I was still very raw in a lot of those areas, especially in the ins and outs of television, so to be able to observe him doing those things was a really cool experience for me.”

Burke added: “I figured if I was going to learn a way to do things and to conduct myself in a television booth watching Doc work in my booth, sort of speak, was the perfect way to do it.”

As great of a broadcaster that Emrick was, he has often been described as an even better person. Reaction from across the hockey and broadcasting world poured in on Twitter following Emrick’s announcement on Monday, along with plenty of stories about his kindness and generosity.

Bridgeport Sound Tigers radio voice Alan Fuehring recalled receiving an email from Emrick last August after briefly mentioning that he was getting married. Emrick reached out to Burke as well following the announcement that he would be the new play-by-play announcer for the Islanders.

“He’s extremely kind and he’s genuine,” Burke said. “He really is that guy and he’s the person you want to ask a million questions and he keeps asking you questions. He wants to know more about you. That’s not an act, that’s him.”

The two have continued to correspond and talk since which included recently as Emrick prepared to call a game between the Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning during the Eastern Conference Finals.

“Always the consummate professional he was calling me to make sure that he was getting those names pronounced right and wanted to go over the Islanders names and double-check, and make sure he was ready to go,” Burke said.

It’s uncertain when hockey will be played again, but whoever NBC taps to replace Emrick will have big shoes to fill.

“We are all going to be sad that Doc won’t be around and I think the sport for certain is better off for having had him,” Burke said.

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