The Islanders find themselves down 1-0 in a series they came into as underdogs. The Pundits, many of the fans have already written off these New York Islanders. Perpetually underrated and overlooked – just the way they like it.
For the record, Vegas and the linemakers had Boston as about a 2-1 favorite before the series. They are now around 80% to win the series. Anyone watching last night’s game would agree that Boston should be favored and heavily favored at that, but I think this line is a bit long. At these prices, I’m betting on the Islanders. I mean, if I was the gambling type…
So, how do the Islanders win the series?
Just before the series began, I and my fellow scribes on the site were published in a great article with everyone’s X-factors.
For me, what has to happen for the Isles to win?
1. The Perfection line must be kept in check (they weren’t in game one with that trio combining for 19 shots and six points). We all know who will be tasked with that job. If the Islanders can’t do a better job than they did in game one, nothing else will matter.
2. Ilya Sorokin (or Semyon Varlamov) must dominate. I’m in favor of going back to Varlamov now. Not because game one was on Sorokin, but it appears Boston has a good scouting report on him and his rebound control issues. Let’s not forget how good Varlamov was in the regular season, specifically against the Bruins.
3. The “2nd line” must continue to produce as if they were our “1st line” (they are) Anthony Beauvillier scored a power play goal in game one. Right now, this line is clicking and generating a ton of chances – that must continue.
4. Hope Oliver Wahlstrom gets healthy quickly. He missed a second straight game and the Islanders sorely miss his shot, his tenacity, his physicality.
The Power Play must produce.
The Islanders scored a PP goal in game one, but faltered on their chance with an extra man in the 3rd period – that PP proved to be pivotal as the Bruins scored almost immediately thereafter.
Anthony Beauvillier. The man can’t be stopped. PPG! pic.twitter.com/c2UZ3GUcF6
— Rob Taub (@RTaub_) May 30, 2021
For the past couple of seasons, the Isles have been better than most teams when at full strength, but with the injuries to the Isles and the depth of Bruins, this is not the case here. For the Islanders to win this series, they need to be better than Boston in goal and in special teams. That obviously wasn’t the case in game one.
When the Boston Bruins acquired Taylor Hall, they became a much more complete team. They became a lot more dangerous 5v5 and I’m not convinced the Islanders will be able to win the 5v5 battle consistently. With Oliver Wahlstrom presumably out at least another game, (and maybe more) how many lines do the Islanders have that can generate offense consistently? With Leo Komarov on the first line and without Wahlstrom on the third, the Bruins can really focus on trying to slow down the Brock Nelson line – Can Nelson and company perform when they start getting “first line” attention? They were good in game one, but I’m not sure “good” will be enough.
I wrote an article a little while ago where I said the Islanders would beat the Pittsburgh Penguins regardless of the lines, but if they want to move on, they’ll need more production from Mathew Barzal. If you missed it, it’s worth a read.
After watching game one, maybe Barry Trotz juggles the lines a bit at least until Wahlstrom is back. If he doesn’t, I’m not sure we’re going to get much offensively from Barzal except during the PP.
Couple all of this with good goaltending from Boston in Tuukka Rask and a great defensive team, and I don’t see the Islanders scoring many goals. For the Islanders to win this series, they’ll need to win a bunch of 2-1 games, they’ll need to tread water in 5v5 and somehow dominate special teams. Boston is one of the best teams in the league when it comes to penalty killing and the power play so this won’t be easy. Despite allowing a few PP goals to Pittsburgh, the Isles penalty kill is still quite good – the last month of the season it was unreal. We need that again.
As for the Power Play, we need the Islanders to drink whatever they were drinking in February when they had the best power play in the league. With no Wahlstrom, it’ll be tough, but Kyle Palmieri can play the ‘Ovi’ spot as well as Wahlstrom can. In fact, the stats suggest Palmieri plays the ‘Ovi’ spot almost as well as Alexander Ovechkin.
Longtime Islander fan and tweeter @Philzfacts did some research about Palmieri. Dating back to 2015-16, Palmieri scores a PPG every 21 minutes and 24 seconds of PP time. Ovechkin scored a PPG every 20 minutes and 6 seconds. So, it’s clear we need Palmieri to step up. How does Trotz put him in a position to succeed?
First off, play him with Barzal on the power play. When the Isles are up a man, there’s more room on the ice and Barzal can be at his best. This isn’t brain surgery. Put your best playmaker on the ice with your best shooter. If they aren’t going to play them together in 5v5 situations, please for the love of God, play them together on the power play. And, put Palmieri on the left face-off dot. Put him in a position to use his lethal shot for one-timers. From 2017-2020, Palmieri scored 33 PP goals, 26 of them were shots taken from the left or right dot. As Palmieri shoots righty, it just makes more sense to have him on his off-side for one-timers.
In addition, without Wahlstrom, this team isn’t deep enough to have two good power play units. Stack the number one unit with your best offensive weapons and be prepared to play them a lot.
There won’t be much room on the ice in this series and goals will be hard to come by. Capitalizing on the power play is key.
Follow David on Twitter at @TuckOnSports