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Islanders Look to Make Defensive Adjustments Ahead of Game 2

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Thomas Greiss leads Isles onto the ice

The debate before the Eastern Conference Final mostly centered around who would start in goal for the New York Islanders.

But now, after an 8-2 blowout loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 1, it might not matter as much about who is in net as much as what defensive changes the Islanders can make.

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After allowing only 16 shots in a shutout in Game 7 against the Philadelphia Flyers, the Islanders were outshot and out-attempted by Tampa Bay.

Islanders Game 1 Heat map

The Islanders have, by and large, been a force and dominant at 5-on-5 during the playoffs. But with the speed and forecheck that Tampa possessed, it was a different story in the Conference Finals opener.

The quick transition between series didn’t help and New York didn’t make enough adjustments to the opponent’s speed. Tampa Bay stretched out the game and the Islanders lost battles along the walls.

While the Islanders caught a few unlucky breaks, like Brock Nelson’s breakaway miss in the first period, Tampa controlled play for big chunks of time and overall held a 53.85 Corsi percentage (per Natural Stat Trick) during 5-on-5 situations.

Sure, the Islanders had tired legs from a seven-game semis series, but Tampa took advantage of that and thoroughly controlled play in all situations during the third period. With 24 attempts to the Islanders’ 10, the game slipped away quickly.

It wasn’t just the totality of chances, though, as Tampa garnered 11 total high danger chances in the final period and the Islanders recorded three.

On an individual level, Nick Leddy and Scott Mayfield struggled defensively as both yielded net negative Corsi relative percentages. Johnny Boychuk and rookie Noah Dobson could be available in case Barry Trotz wants to make lineup changes. Dobson, however, hasn’t played since the restart and Boychuk has been out since the Florida Panthers series.

The Islanders did get their chances, though, especially in the second period. The final score might not fully indicate how the game was played, but Tampa outplayed New York for long stretches.

“They ended up scoring on almost all their chances,” Trotz said on Tuesday. “If you look at the analytics of the game, it was probably closer than an 8-2 game. It doesn’t feel good when you’re sitting there and the score is 8-2. The only analytics that matters is the scoreboard.”

Islanders advanced stats from Game 1 ECF

The Islanders discussed just putting aside what happened on a forgettable night.

“They were able to stretch us out a little bit and create some time and space at the top of the zone,” Devon Toews told reporters Tuesday. “We kinda struggled just defending that and reading it a little. There’s obviously a few things we like to do down low just to take away time and space. We weren’t quite as efficient at that as we usually are, and I think it showed.”

Part of the problem was the slow start, giving up a goal 1:14 into the game and then two more during the first period. But even as the Islanders rebounded in the second and limited Tampa’s opportunities, they hurt themselves with continual trips to the penalty box.

On the penalty kill six times overall, the special teams unit only stopped Tampa’s high-energy power-play unit three times. Staying out of the box is always paramount, but Tampa’s man-advantage has so far converted at a 22 percent clip (second-best of remaining playoff teams). So it should become priority one for the Islanders to play at even strength.

There was a noticeable lack of pushback, and Toews said Tuesday the team felt it on the ice. There’s hope the day off can provide the New York Islanders a much-needed rest and preparation day.

“In that 4-0 game (against the Flyers), we came out pretty hot,” Toews added. “That was something we focused on a lot lately, was our starts and (Monday) that start wasn’t really there. It just put us behind the eight ball for the game and we couldn’t really recover from it. Whether it’s travel or just not being prepared, not ready for the game, whatever it is.

“We just chalk that up as a loss and move on.”

Barry Trotz: Clutterbuck Possible to Play for Islanders in Game 2

As for the goaltending situation, Barry Trotz does have an interesting choice to make. Thomas Greiss allowed three goals on nine shots, but Semyon Varlamov didn’t give much of a confidence boost in giving up five more.

Trotz hasn’t decided on who will get the Game 2 start yet. He attributed missed assignments leading to open skaters and odd-man rushes, and in turn, more goals.

“Our tracking protocols were a little bit off, just caught in between a little bit, not sharp,” Trotz said. “To me, that’s a sign of a little mental focus, mental fatigue that we weren’t as sharp.

“This team is much better and I know they’ll respond.”

Welcome to your new home for New York Islanders breaking news, analysis and opinion. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and don't forget to subscribe to NYHN+ for all of our members-only content from Christian Arnold and the National Hockey Now network.

New York Islanders

Oliver Wahlstrom could give New York Islanders scoring jolt

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Oliver Wahlstrom

Since the New York Islanders three-goal barrage in the first period against the New York Rangers on opening night, the team has amassed just two goals over the ensuing eight periods.

Yes, it’s a small sample size and still early in the season, but in an abbreviated campaign, each game’s importance is magnified.

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Through three games, the Islanders rank 28th in the league in Corsi For percentage (42.45, per Natural Stat Trick), and just haven’t generated a ton of sustained offensive zone time outside of a brilliant start a Madison Square Garden. Hockey Reference has the Islanders at 0.7 expected goals for per game, which is tied for last with the New Jersey Devils.

It’s not time to sound the alarm bells, but it’s also not ideal to hit the snooze button and let the problem linger.

Up and down the lineup the Islanders can get more contributions from everyone. But a little tweak on the third line might go a long way. Adding 20-year-old Oliver Wahlstrom might just give the team a little spark.

With the departure of Derrick Brassard, the Islanders have so far relied on a third line of Kieffer Bellows, Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Ross Johnston. That line has seen the fewest ice time of any of the offensive units, although Pageau has played in a bit of a hybrid role and has skated with other teammates and has received special teams time.

Semyon Varlamov Dominant in Shutout Win Over Boston Bruins

Right now that third line is acting more like a fourth, and not giving the Islanders much — if any — scoring depth. Bellows and Johnston have each have recorded just one shot on goal through three games. Even in limited playing time, that’s just not enough to make any tangible difference.

Sure, one could argue that this group is out there to create a forecheck and maybe give the Islanders an extra physical presence. But the fourth line already fulfills that role, and with Matt Martin already in the lineup, Barry Trotz and the Islanders are double-dipping a bit by keeping Johnston out there.

Oliver Wahlstrom has only nine games of NHL experience under his belt from last year, but did produce 22 points over 45 AHL games with Bridgeport last year. As a 19-year-old with the big club last season, he did produce a 46 percent CF percentage in those nine games, which isn’t at all terrible for a first cup of coffee as a teenager at hockey’s highest level.

On loan in Sweden this winter, Wahlstrom produced four goals and four assists over 10 games and flashed the offensive zone ability he was lauded for when the Islanders used a first-round pick on him in 2018. Wahlstrom has a high ceiling and plenty of skill with the puck, which could give the team an added element it is right now lacking.

When Michael Dal Colle officially returns from injured reserve, he’ll likely get a shot to skate on Pageau’s wing on the third line. Trotz said on Tuesday that Dal Colle was “real close” to coming off IR.

With 17 points in 85 games, Dal Colle probably won’t move the scoring needle a ton for the Islanders.

It might not be a huge difference-maker right now, but giving Oliver Wahlstrom a chance to come off the taxi squad and into the lineup could give the Islanders a little bit of an offensive spark and take the pressure off some of the top-six forwards.

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New York Islanders

Semyon Varlamov Dominant in Shutout Win Over Boston Bruins

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Semyon Varlamov

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Semyon Varlamov didn’t miss a beat on Monday.

Despite missing his scheduled start on Saturday due to a freak injury during warmups, the veteran goaltender was on the ice and in command of his net in the New York Islanders 1-0 win over the Boston Bruins. Varlamov made 27 saves as he became the first goalie in franchise history to record shutouts in their first two games of the season.

“I can tell that’s the best result I’ve ever had after two games,” Varlamov said. I’ve never had back to back shutouts at the beginning of the season. I mean I’ve had some seasons where I’ve felt great, but still, the outcome is different. I’m glad it happened this way and I’m pretty happy about the result.”

Semyon Varlamov was dominant in his second outing of the year on Monday. The Islanders’ netminder withstood what felt like a barrage of shots Boston threw at him over the course of the 60-minute contest.

Varlamov is only the 14th goaltender in NHL history to start the season with shutouts in his first two starts.

It was up in the air if Varlamov would even be able to start on Monday. He was injured by a shot during warmups on Saturday night and was forced to miss the game.

“I got hit in the face during warmups,” Varlamov said. “It happens you know. I felt a little dizzy. It happens. I felt fine the next morning. I skated yesterday, felt pretty good after practice. Barry decided to put me in the net. I felt pretty good today.”

The Russian goalie held Boston at bay early in the game. Boston tilted the ice in their favor through the first 20 minutes of the game, pressuring the Islanders and outshooting them 11-3.

The Islanders managed to right the ship as the game went on, it was the early effort from Varlamov that helped the Islanders turn the tide.

“I thought early he was a big reason we got a win tonight,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “He made some really good saves against a very good hockey team. He just calmed our game, gave us a chance. In the second period, we got our feet moving and started to play more to our identity.”

The shutout win certainly had plenty of people excited, Varlamov tried to keep the situation within perspective after the game

“I’ll take back-to-back shutouts, I’m not going to lie,” Varlamov said. “I’m pretty happy today. But this is just the beginning of the year, a lot of games coming. We played well today and I’m glad we scored the important goal in the end.”

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New York Islanders

SHOT AT REDEMPTION! Islanders Lineup, Matchups and Game Notes vs. Boston

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New York Islanders lineup vs. the Boston Bruins

Take a deep breath Islanders country, Semyon Varlamov is able to be part of the New York Islanders lineup in today’s game against the Boston Bruins.

The veteran netminder will be available for the Islanders when they host Boston this afternoon at the Nassau Coliseum. It will mark the first time the Islanders have played at home since March 7 of last year when they lost to the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 in overtime.

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More importantly, it will be a chance for the Islanders lineup to redeem themselves after an ugly loss to the New York Rangers on Saturday.

“Obviously that wasn’t the game that we wanted, the outcome we wanted,” Scott Mayfield said this morning. “I think this season another wrinkle in it is that every game is pretty much a four-point game. You’re right on to the next one. You don’t have a lot of time to think about it and we just have to focus on Boston now.”

Despite some thought to the contrary, it appears as though head coach Barry Trotz will use a similar Islanders lineup to the one that was on the ice against the Rangers. The Islanders coach said that he wanted to give the group a chance at a bit of redemption.

News that Varlamov is also welcomed news after he missed his scheduled start on Saturday after taking a shot up high in warmups. Ilya Sorokin made his NHL debut and allowed five goals in the shutout loss to the Rangers.

County Exec Laura Curran Remains Hopeful Fans will Be Allowed in Coliseum This Season

Trotz was not happy with the team’s performance all around that night, from injuring their own goaltender to the sloppy play in the game.

“The game wasn’t lost in terms of the Xs and the Os of the game,” Trotz said. “The game was lost in terms of the focus and the mindset that we had going into that game. Our team has always been pretty resilient and we started focusing on the wrong things. … where we went off the rails was our mindset and those are the things you can control internally.”

While Boston isn’t coming off a lopsided loss like the Isles, they did suffer a heartbreaking one on Saturday in overtime to the New Jersey Devils. Boston also has not scored a five-on-five goal through the first two games of the year.

Boston will start Tuuka Rask in net against the Islanders and Odrej Kase will be out with an upper-body injury. Jack Studnicka will take his place in the lineup.

New York  Islanders Lineup (Projected)

Anders Lee — Mathew Barzal — Jordan Eberle

Anthony Beauvillier — Brock Nelson — JosBailey

Ross Johnston — Jean-Gabriel Pageau — Kieffer Bellows

Matt Martin — Casey Cizikas — Cal Clutterbuck

Adam Pelech — Ryan Pulock

NickLeddy — Scott Mayfield

Andy Greene — Noah Dobson

Semyon Varlamov

Ilya Sorokin

Boston Bruins Lineup (Projected)

Brad Marchand –- Patrice Bergeron –- Jake DeBrusk

Nick Ritchie –- David Krejci –- JackStudnicka

Anders Bjork –- Charlie Coyle –- Greg McKegg

Trent Frederic –- Sean Kuraly –- Chris Wagner

Jeremy Lauzon –- Charlie McAvoy

Matt Grzelcyk –- Brandon Carlo

Jakub Zboril –- Kevan Miller

Tuukka Rask

Jaro Halak

Game Notes

The Islanders have three players who have active consecutive game streaks of at least 200 games (Lee 270, Nelson 247, Barzal 234). … Ilya Sorokin was the first Islanders’ goaltender to make their NHL debut against the New York Rangers. … The Islanders have struggled against Boston. They are 1-7-2 in their last 10 games against Boston and the Islanders have not won against them at home since 2013. … This afternoon wraps up a three-game road trip for Boston, which played the New Jersey Devils twice to open the season. … Brandon Carlo is playing his 300th NHL game and Matt Grzelcyk is playing his 200th NHL game today. … David Pastrnak is one assist shy of 200 in his career.

How to Watch

Today’s game will air locally on MSG+ or it is streamable on MSG Go or on NHL.tv outside of the New York market. NBCSN will also air the game nationally outside of the market. On the radio dial, the game can be heard on 1050 AM ESPN, 88.7 FM WRHU and 103.9 FM LI News Radio.

Welcome to your new home for New York Islanders breaking news, analysis and opinion. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and don't forget to subscribe to NYHN+ for all of our members-only content from Christian Arnold and the National Hockey Now network.
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