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 opened the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs with two games at PPG Paints Arena against the Pittsburgh Penguins. As the top seed in the MassMutual East Division, the Pens hosted the first two games along with Game 5, and if necessary, would host a Game 7 as well. Starting with Game 2, Pittsburgh’s fan capacity increased to 9,000 while the Islanders are now slated to allow approximately 7,200 fans when the series returns to New York on Thursday.
Sunday’s series opener was closely contested throughout, something not typically expected from a matchup of No. 1 and No. 4 seeds. The Isles got on the board first with trade-deadline acquisition Kyle Palmieri scoring his first postseason goal with his hometown team. The Pens got a quick answer to finish the first period tied before Sidney Crosby did what he does best and gave Pittsburgh the lead early in the second period, which they would carry into the third. New York was able to get the equalizer from Jean-Gabriel Pageau and later a goal from Brock Nelson to briefly take the lead. Kasperi Kapanen tied the game up less than a minute later, and Game 1 went to overtime, where Palmieri was able to find his second goal of the game to play hero in his Isles playoff debut.
After not being ready for Game 1, Semyon Varlamov earned the start on Tuesday and sent Ilya Sorokin back to the bench. The Vezina candidate got off to a rough start, allowing a goal by Bryan Rust off a costly turnover by Ryan Pulock in the Isles’ zone. Jeff Carter was able to beat Varlamov again late in the first period, but the veteran netminder was otherwise solid in his first postseason start of the year. The lone Islanders’ goal came off a great solo effort from Josh Bailey, and despite a late power-play opportunity, the Isles were unable to beat Tristan Jarry again and fell 2-1. Even though Game 2 looked like one that could have gone either way, the Isles should be content with an even series heading back to Long Island.
The Penguins avoided losing Brian Dumoulin after the defenseman blocked a shot from Pulock off the foot in Sunday’s loss. He was a game-time decision on Tuesday and dressed, but left early in the third period after taking a hard hit into the boards from Pageau. His status will surely be monitored ahead of Thursday’s game, as will the status of Evgeni Malkin, who has yet to appear in the series for Pittsburgh. His usual spot on the second line has been filled adequately by Carter, who scored in Tuesday’s win.
The Islanders have started a different goaltender in each of the first two games of the series, partially by necessity, but this begs the question of who Barry Trotz will turn to next. Trotz has said many times this season that he feels comfortable with both goalies and reiterated this week that he will be confident no matter who is between the pipes. Sorokin was sharp in Game 1, keeping the score close and allowing the Isles to come back and eventually win the game in overtime. Varlamov recovered well from his shaky start and put the Isles in a similarly strong position late in Game 2.
The Islanders’ new goaltending duo established themselves as one of the league’s best this season, capped off by falling just a few goals-against short of earning the Jennings Trophy. With both Varlamov and Sorokin healthy, the Isles have options going forward and should remain confident should another injury take place. An underrated aspect of this year’s team as compared to years past is the presence of veteran Cory Schneider, who has served as a backup on several occasions this year but hasn’t seen action at the NHL level. Having a veteran third goalie is something the Isles haven’t had over the past few years and provides further insurance as they look to make another deep playoff run.
First Line Struggles
The Isles had a good offensive showing in the series opener and followed it up with some good chances in Tuesday’s loss, but something is still missing. Most of the team’s offensive production has come from their middle-six, most prominently the third line in Sunday’s big overtime win. Pageau, Palmieri, and Oliver Wahlstrom combined for six points in Sunday’s game, while the second line of Nelson, Bailey, and Anthony Beauvillier has contributed a combined four points across the two games thus far. New York’s top line, centered by Mathew Barzal, has been unusually quiet.
Barzal led the team in points during the regular season, as he has in each of his four full NHL seasons, but has been held off the scoresheet through the first two games of this series. Along with the rest of his line, Barzal is looking to generate some offense as the Isles look to take a lead in the series at home. There have been chances for his trio, especially with an aggressive forecheck, but they have been unable to beat Jarry so far. Leo Komarov has amassed 20 hits through the two games and is doing his part in disrupting the Pens defensively in an attempt to create scoring chances. The persistence of this line should pay off eventually, as long as they don’t get frustrated with their lack of production so far.
Top Performers and the Week Ahead
- Kyle Palmieri: 2 goals
- Jean-Gabriel Pageau: 1 goal, 2 assists
- Brock Nelson: 1 goal, 1 assist
The Week Ahead
- 5/20: Game 3 vs Pittsburgh
- 5/22: Game 4 vs Pittsburgh
- 5/24: Game 5 at Pittsburgh
- 5/26: Game 6 vs Pittsburgh (if necessary)
Covering the New York Islanders and Seattle Kraken for The Hockey Writers. MBA Sports & Entertainment Management Candidate at Hofstra University. Formerly Marketing Intern with the American Flag Football League & Operations Intern for the Long Island Nets, G-League Affiliate of the Brooklyn Nets.