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Farieri: Concerns with the Islanders’ top line and why they need to right the ship versus Boston

The New York Islanders are moving on to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against an extremely tough opponent in the Boston Bruins. I was the lone member of the IslesBlog team that had the Islanders bowing out to the Penguins and that was because of my concern about the teams’ first line. Consisting of Leo Komarov, Mathew Barzal, and Jordan Eberle, the first line on paper isn’t exactly striking fear into anyone’s hearts, mostly because of the occupant on Barzal’s left wing.

In the six-game series against the Penguins, the trio complied only two goals and five assists for an underwhelming seven points. It’s also worth noting that both goals came from the stick of Eberle. That means a goose egg for the teams’ best offensive weapon in Barzal, and of course Uncle Leo. Thankfully, the “Killer B’s” line played out of their minds and compiled a whopping 19 points in six games, with each of Anthony Beauvillier, Brock Nelson, and Josh Bailey netting three goals apiece, helping the Islanders to advance.

The Bruins are certainly a much different team than the Pens. To me, I consider them a higher-skilled version of the Islanders.  That being said, the Isles cannot count on the second line to produce as they currently are. They are going to need their first line to start producing if they want to have success, however, what I’ve seen from them in the first round wasn’t encouraging.

It all starts with Komarov. I want to point out that I do like Uncle Leo, but I strongly believe he should not be playing on the top line. It’s apparent he’s hindering the potential offensive output of both Barzal and Eberle. Against Pittsburgh, there were one too many passes that weren’t clean from Komarov that ended up extinguishing a scoring opportunity. For example, one pass landed between the skates of Eberle in the slot, and another pass that could have set up Ryan Pulock on a breakaway, but the was sent out of his reach. It also seems that Barzal, nor Eberle even look in Komarov’s direction when in the offensive zone.

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Unsurprisingly, Barzal and Eberle had their best shifts of the entire series when Komarov went off for a change and either Kyle Palmieri or Beauvillier was on the ice with them. Now, I completely understand why Komarov was given a shot up there. His play away from the puck is very strong, but a top-line needs to have all three players who can contribute to the offense. All three need to be able to put the puck on net as well.

Barzal leads the line with 15 shots, then Eberle with 14, followed by Komarov with a mere four for a total of 33 combined shots in six games. Compared to the combined 62 shots in only five games from the Bruins’ “Perfection Line” (not to mention the 13 total points in that span), Barzal’s line is severely underperforming as a first-line. I understand that Komarov has been given the impossible task of filling in Anders Lee’s role in front of the net and that he’s not afraid to go to the dirty areas, but he’s not making a huge impact offensively.

On Scott Mayfield’s goal in Game 3 at the Coliseum, it seemed like Penguins’ defenseman, Brian Dumoulin, did a better job at screening goalie Tristan Jarry than Komarov did. The Barzal line just needs more. I won’t pretend to have the answer, but I know the answer isn’t Komarov.

If the Islanders bench boss, Barry Trotz, continues running out the same top line, they’re going to have to at least go toe-to-toe with the Bruins’ top scoring line. It may be a tall order at this point, but I believe it is a necessary one in order for the Islanders to advance to their second consecutive Eastern Conference Final.

 

 

 

 

Follow Sal on Twitter @sfarieri

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About Sal Farieri

Sal Farieri currently resides in Albertson, NY. He was a New York Islanders employee from September 2007 till June 2016 as part of the Game Operations staff. Having worked for the team, being around the game and the players, has provided Sal with some great insight that he's excited to share. He has also worked in other areas of the sports world, including the UFL and the NFL.

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