These have undoubtedly been unprecedented times in the NHL with the shutdown of the league, but playoff hockey seems to be coming back a few months late. The New York Islanders qualified for the 2020 playoffs and will be set to play for the Florida Panthers in the qualification round.
Related: Top 10 Worst Mike Milbury Moves
With the long break, the Islanders have had the opportunity to start getting healthy. New York will be returning this season with everyone healthy in a year that featured major injuries to roughly half a dozen players. The Isles lost Casey Cizikas and Adam Pelech to what would have been season-ending injuries, but general manager Lou Lamoriello confirmed both players would be good to go when play resumes.
Despite Cizikas playing in the bottom six, there are not too many better fourth line centers in the league. Cizikas was injured as he became the third player of the Islanders to be cut by a skate, but used the break to recover. The most significant impact will likely be how he affects the fourth line. Both Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin have been Cizikas’ wingers for many years, but have never been able to find their game when not playing together.
The Islanders rotated many different forwards on that line this season, with all the players missing time at some point. Cizikas will also play a significant impact on the penalty kill. The Panthers ranked 11th in the league on the power play and, at times, were red hot this season. Cizikas will also line up against Florida’s top line and play against Aleksander Barkov. Last season, Cizikas and his line shut down Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Islanders’ sweep in the first round of the playoffs.
Cizikas also has shown the ability to score. He had a career-high 20 goals in 2018-19 and was on pace to come close to breaking that mark this year. Cizikas has scored big goals, mainly in the third period, and provides secondary scoring that the Islanders were missing for much of the past few seasons. It will also be the first time New York can roll out their four centers with Cizikas, Brock Nelson, Matt Barzal and newly acquired Jean-Gabriel Pageau.
The loss of Adam Pelech not only affected the Islanders in the defensive zone, but Lamoriello went out and traded a second-round pick to try and replace him with veteran Andy Greene. Pelech will almost certainly be inserted into the top defensive pair with Ryan Pulock. The duo quietly became the team’s best pairing before the injury with Pelech’s play in the defensive zone and Pulock’s offensive play.
Pelech will also help out like Cizikas on the penalty kill as one of the best shot blockers in the league. With an established group of Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy, Devon Toews, and Scott Mayfield already in place, head coach Barry Trotz will have many options with his defense with Greene now in the mix too, Thomas Hickey and Noah Dobson all on the roster as well.
The Islanders have never been a team that dressed seven defensemen, but it could be an option in the playoffs. They have their top-six forwards all locked in as well as their fourth line. It can give players like Barzal and Nelson a double shift if they go with the extra defenseman.
There still is plenty of time before the playoffs get going. Assuming everyone stays healthy as they begin practicing, the Islanders will be as healthy as they have been all season. Even at the start of the season, New York was missing Andrew Ladd and Noah Dobson, but their full team will be ready to start a unique playoff format this summer.