Islanders Weekly is my series that looks at the performance and outlook of the New York Islanders. Every Thursday, we will take a look at the week that was for the Islanders, highlighting key players and trends while looking at the road ahead.
Related: Last Week’s Islanders Weekly
The Islanders have advanced to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third straight season after defeating the top-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins in six games. After trailing the series two games to one, the Islanders won Game 4 at home, then took Game 5 on the road before closing the series out at Nassau Coliseum. The win guaranteed at least two more games will be played at the team’s longtime home, before next season’s move to UBS Arena.
The first two games of the second-round series were played in Boston, with Game 1 starting on Saturday, just three days after the conclusion of the Penguins series. The rested Bruins fell behind early after the Islanders converted on the power play, but got two straight goals in response from David Pastrnak. After tying the game before the end of the second period, the final frame of the contest was all Boston, with three goals added on including Pastrnak’s hat-trick, giving the home team a 5-2 victory to open the series.
New York switched things up for Game 2 with Semyon Varlamov patrolling the crease for the first time since Game 3 of the first round. Ilya Sorokin stopped 35 of 39 Boston shots in Game 1 and allowed them to convert on both power plays, and returned to the bench after starting four straight games for the Isles. Varlamov allowed a goal on the first shot he faced but kept the Bruins off the board for the remainder of the first period, so New York only had a one-goal deficit to overcome. The second period was controlled for stretches by the Isles, who scored three goals, two of which came on the power play.
Boston’s perfection line continued to torment the Isles and forced overtime in a game New York was much more competitive in, with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand scoring in the third period to tie the game late. The Game 2 hero was Casey Cizikas, who was able to capitalize on a turnover by Bruins defenseman Jeremy Lauzon and beat Tuukka Rask to bring an even series to Nassau Coliseum on Thursday.
Power Play Success
The Islanders struggled with their power play for long stretches during the regular season, but they seem to have put the pieces together over the last few games. In the two games so far against the Bruins, the Isles man-advantage unit is operating at 50%, with an overall mark of 27.3% for the playoffs, ranking them fifth in the NHL. Being without captain Anders Lee has created issues for the entire offense, but it has been particularly noticeable when the Isles have the extra man. They were unable to replicate his net-front presence in the regular season, but other players appear to be willing to play that style during the playoffs.
Planting bodies in front of the net paid off in Game 2, as Josh Bailey was able to score on the power play on what looked like a pass across the ice. Brock Nelson established his position in front of Tuukka Rask, and another unfortunate incident at the hands of Lauzon resulted in a deflection into his own net. On Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s power-play goal, his willingness to drive the net allowed Anthony Beauvillier to find him across the crease for a back-door goal. Continuing to focus on driving the net should keep the power play trending in the right direction.
The Islanders started a different goaltender in each of the first two games of this series, giving them options going into a pivotal Game 3 on home ice. After Varlamov made 39 saves in Game 2 on Monday, he figures to be the first choice for coach Barry Trotz, as he’s known for riding a goaltender for as long as he produces. The Isles’ regular-season workhorse picked up the win and is the veteran of the team’s two goaltenders with plenty of playoff experience. Despite not being named a Vezina Trophy finalist as the NHL’s top goaltender, Varlamov was at or near the top of the league in several major goaltending categories, including shutouts and save percentage, during the compressed campaign.
While the Islanders have had the luxury of elite goaltending over the last few seasons and over their last two playoff runs, they need to perform better in front of them. The Isles are allowing the third-most shots against per game in the playoffs, and are only staying in games because of their elite goaltending tandem. Over 39 shots against per game combined with a subpar penalty kill can set the Islanders up for failure if their offense can’t keep up with a potent Bruins attack.
Top Performers and the Week Ahead
- Kyle Palmieri: 1 goal, 1 assist
- Jean-Gabriel Pageau: 1 goal, 1 assist
- Casey Cizikas: 1 goal
The Week Ahead
- 6/3: Game 3 vs Bruins
- 6/5: Game 4 vs Bruins
- 6/7: Game 5 at Bruins
- 6/9: Game 6 vs Bruins (if necessary)