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New York Islanders

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.”

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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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New York Islanders

‘It Still Stings,’ Loss Drives Lee For Another Push

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Anders Lee

While the hockey world looks forward and waits to find out when or even if the 2020-21 season will start, New York Islanders captain Anders Lee took a moment to look back and reflect.

Lee and the Islanders are now just over a month removed from their season-ending loss in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals to Tampa Bay. It had been the deepest the Islanders had gone in the playoffs since 1993 and the run shocked much of the hockey world.

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