Through the first two series of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Islanders leaned on their second line to carry much of the offensive load. Through three games against the Tampa Bay Lightning, that second line has been completely shut down.
It has clearly been a focus of Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper to shut down the Isles’ second unit comprised of Brock Nelson, Josh Bailey and Anthony Beauvillier. To this point, his Bolts squad have done a flawless job.
When asked about Beauvillier specifically Friday morning, Barry Trotz had this to say; “I would say that Beau has another level in his game, I think he’s got stalled out little a bit. Some of it is their line, I need them to be a little bit better. Give credit to Tampa Bay and their team for doing a really good job against Nelly’s line as a whole. But we’ll need just a little bit more.”
A little bit more may be an understatement. Nelson, Bailey and Beauvillier had combined for 32 points through the first 12 games of the playoffs. Versus Tampa? They have amassed only two points. To make the situation even worse those two points have not come when all three skaters have been on the ice together.
For the Isles, Mathew Barzal has been red hot. But it is hard to watch the emerging superstar and not feel that his line is being hindered in the offensive third by having Leo Komarov on his wing. The Bolts strategy of shutting down the Islanders’ second line echoes this sentiment.
If the second line’s offensive production stays stagnant it is a huge blow to the Isles and their hopes to upset the Lightning.
The biggest advantage for the Islanders going into most matchups is their ability to relentlessly roll four lines all game long. Most teams aren’t capable of doing the same and they get worn out and the Isles capitalize on those tired mistakes or mental lapses.
The Lightning are the defending Stanley Cup Champions, they are deep at every level. Not only are they deep, they have elite talent littered all over their roster.
Conventional wisdom would suggest the Isles will need to wear Tampa down with all four lines being effective.
Nelson, Bailey and Beauvillier averaged 2.6 points per game through the first two rounds of the playoffs. It is no coincidence that the Isles entered the Stanley Cup Semifinals with the most goals scored in the playoffs and trailed only the Colorado Avalanche in goals scored per game. A combination of Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevski and the disappearance of the Isles’ second line has seen the team regress to average less than two goals per game.
The series is still young, but Game 4 Saturday night looms large. Falling behind 3-1 to the Lightning seems a near impossible deficit to overcome. So, if the Isles are to advance past the reigning Stanley Cup Champions, they are going to need their second line to make an impact, and make it very quickly.
Follow Ryan on Twitter at @ryandunni