The New York Islanders split the opening two games in Pittsburgh to open up their first-round matchup in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Despite playing in two close games, the Islanders have had their fair share of absences, but none of them have been as glaring as the power play.
To start, the power play has only had three opportunities — two in game one and one in game two– and failed in all three. One of those chances was even a four-minute power play, which resulted in nothing.
The outcomes so far in the playoffs are more of what Islanders fans have seen for years now and since the team lost captain Anders Lee. Not only was Lee one of the team’s top scorers when he went down, but he was also one of the top net-front presences in the NHL.
The Isles have tried filling Lee’s spot on the top line and power play in various ways, but none of them have really stuck. Now in the postseason, they must find an answer for one of those, because it is going to be really tough to win hockey games without a goal from your power play or top line.
Under head coach Barry Trotz the team’s power play has never been great, but it was serviceable to start this season. Once Lee went down in early March, the power play lost all of its confidence again.
The solution should be as simple as finding someone who can be a big body like Lee, but the issue is that the Islanders don’t have anyone else like Lee. When they brought in Kyle Palmieri, he seemed like a good option to put in that spot. But Palmieri is more of a shooter than a net-front guy on the power play. The Isles have also tried Matt Martin to replicate at least some of what Lee does, and that didn’t amount to much.
Instead of trying to get back to what worked with Lee in the lineup, the Islanders need to scheme their power play around the talent on the ice. Without that dynamic, they need to send more bodies towards the crease, creating more traffic and hopefully leading to more chances especially with skilled puck handlers like Mathew Barzal and terrific shooters like Oliver Wahlstrom.
When the Islanders have had success on the power play in the second half of the season, it stemmed from both Palmieri and Brock Nelson working towards the net. They caused traffic in front of the net and were able to bury any rebounds that come their way.
Credit also needs to go to the Penguins penalty kill. They’ve done a solid job not letting either of the Isles’ power play units even get set up. But the Islanders need to find a way. The top players have to be better and find a way to score goals.
The bottom line is that the Islanders, as a group in all facets, need to be better than they were in game two. It starts with the power play and each group actually looking competent. They’ve been absent for long enough.
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