Islanders’ Depth Is Showing in the Playoffs

Similar to their start to the postseason in 2019 when they swept the Pittsburgh Penguins in Round 1, the New York Islanders are off to a terrific start in their first-round matchup against the Washington Capitals. After New York defeated the Florida Panthers in the qualifying round 3-1, the Islanders are off to a 2-0 series lead against the Capitals.

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A large part of their credit belongs to head coach Barry Trotz and his coaching staff, who won a Stanley Cup with Wahington in 2018, as well as the goaltending from Semyon Varlamov, but the Islanders have been getting contributions from all four lines.

New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz
New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

As most teams enter the playoff, coaches increase their top-line players’ ice time, but the Islanders have had three different forwards lead the team in ice-time through the first six games. They also have had only one forward, Mat Barzal, play over 20 minutes as Trotz has done a terrific job of evening up the ice-time between his forwards.

“Our group gives you an honest effort night in and night out,” said Trotz. “They understand the importance of the end goal of winning a hockey game and how you’re going to go about doing it. They got a really good belief and it starts with your older players and we have some very good leaders.”


First Line: Lee-Barzal-Eberle

The Islanders’ first line, other than Jordan Eberle, was held quiet until Game 4 against the Panthers when Barzal scored his first goal of the series. Since then, New York’s first line has been terrific as Anders Lee has regained his form from the regular season. He has scored twice as well as making an impact physically. While he took a penalty for a hit on Nicklas Backstrom in Game 1, he has gotten underneath the Capitals’ skin.

New York Islanders Anders Lee
New York Islanders’ Anders Lee celebrates with teammates (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Tom Wilson, who has been one of Wahington’s most consistent forwards so far, challenged Lee to a fight in Game 1 and has spent significant time in the penalty box. Barzal has started to find some space at center, making room for a sniper like Eberle on his wing. The first line has combined for six goals through the first six games and has dictated play while on the ice. While mainly being matched up against defenseman John Carlson, with the Capitals getting the last change, they have excelled to start the postseason.

Second Line Beauvillier-Nelson-Bailey

Other than Bo Horvat of the Vancouver Canucks, Anthony Beauvillier and Brock Nelson have been two of the best forwards in the 2020 playoffs. Beauvillier has gotten off to an incredible start, picking up points in his first six playoff games. Nelson also has been red-hot as the two have combined for seven goals.

Josh Bailey has picked up his play in the first round with a game-winning shorthanded goal in Game 1 and has stepped up on the penalty kill with Nelson. New York’s five-on-five play has been tremendous, but their penalty kill has been a work in progress. While Nelson and Bailey are the fifth and sixth forwards on the kill, they have helped kill off seven Capitals’ power plays in two games. They also possess great wrist shots and are threats to score anytime they are on the ice.

Third Line: Komarov-Pageau-Brassard

One of the biggest question marks all season was the Islanders’ third line. New York cemented their third-line center, though with the addition of Jean-Gabriel Pageau. Not only has he scored a pair of goals this postseason, but he has also helped out on the penalty kill and set the tempo for the third line with Leo Komarov and Derick Brassard.

Jean-Gabriel Pageau New York Islanders Travis Boyd Braden Holtby Washington Capitals
Jean-Gabriel Pageau of the New York Islanders battles Travis Boyd and Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals. (Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images)

Both Komarov and Brassard don’t bring much offense to the table at this point in their careers, but they have played solid five-on-five and on the forecheck. Komarov came into the lineup to replace Tom Kuhnhackl and contributes on special teams.

They also did a solid job in Game 2, keeping the Capitals in their zone in their shifts during the third period. With such a strong fourth line, this is the trio that gets the least ice-time together. However, they continue to play well and have helped the Islanders in the playoffs so far.

Fourth Line: Martin-Cizikas-Clutterbuck

The Islanders’ fourth line, which is often referred to as the best fourth line in the NHL, has picked up their play in the first round. They were all pretty quiet in the qualifying round other than Matt Martin’s goal, but all contributed in Game 2 against the Capitals. Both Martin and Cal Clutterbuck scored goals, and Casey Cizikas had one of the best scoring chances for New York in the first period.

They are also matched up against Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals’ top line and have played strong in the defensive area. Cizikas and Clutterbuck are each two of the best penalty killers on the team, and anytime the fourth line can produce offense, the Islanders are in a strong position to win.

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Even with a 2-0 series lead, New York still has plenty of work to do. Two seasons ago, the Capitals lost their first two games of the postseason in overtime against the Columbus Blue Jackets and went on to win a Stanley Cup.

The Islanders will have an advantage in Games 3 and 4 with the last change, which will help get the top defensive pair of Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech out on the ice more. They should also expect a big push from the Capitals to start Game 3 as head coach Todd Reirden needs to succeed in his second year after taking over a for a championship team.