The New York Islanders got the job done in Game 2 on the road at TD Garden against the Boston Bruins stealing a game on the road. Now going back to Boston with the series knotted at two, the Islanders won’t have the Coliseum crowd behind them to give them the extra boost as the Isles’ “sixth man.”
Throughout the series, there have been plenty of positives and plenty of negatives, such as any series for any team. However, there are three crucial keys to success the Islanders need to take in order for them to come out with a Game 5 victory and head back to Nassau Coliseum with the advantage.
Strong starts have always been an important part of the Islanders’ structure since Barry Trotz took over as head coach. That’s why general manager Lou Lamoriello always made sure to establish the best goaltending possible for his head coach, while Trotz established the defense.
It’s no secret that Islanders goaltender, Semyon Varlamov, has had the tendency to give up a soft early goal, not just in this series but in the majority of his starts in the postseason.
Game 4 was much better. Varlamov was a perfect 11/11 in the first period, whereas he had been allowing goals within the first five minutes in the first three contests against the Bruins. He went on to make 28 saves on 29 shots and helped propel the Islanders to a Game 3 victory.
“His demeanor gives you that confidence. Both of our goalies have that quality,” said Trotz at a post-practice media availability. “Varly has been one of those guys that if he has a bad game you want to throw him back in there right away.”
Varlamov proved his ability to shake off mishaps in his game and quickly return to form to keep the Islanders in contention at any given moment. He’ll need to swing the momentum from game four right into Game 5, as the Islanders are on the road and will need Varlamov to be their best player.
Mat Barzal had his best game in Game 4, building off finally scoring in game three, despite the loss.
Barzal was likely the best skater on the ice for both teams, assisting the game-tying goal and scoring the game-winner. The good news is now that he’s scoring, he still knows he has a job to do against the Bruins.
“I think you guys want to make it out to be that the player is feeling it… but throughout the playoffs, I’ve been happy with my compete level,” Barzal said. “This is the playoffs, it’s not going to be the same guy every night… I knew I had to step up and that’s all I’ve been trying to do.”
And he’s right, it might not be him who’s finding the back of the net night in and night out, but the Bruins are still going to defend him as if he is. With that, Barzal’s strong play must continue to relieve pressure from some of the other Islanders’ key players, such as Anthony Beauvillier, Brock Nelson, and Josh Bailey. When Trotz has four strong lines rolling, the Islanders are at their best as opponents are in a “pick your poison” situation when choosing who to match their best defenders against.
That being said, when your best player is scoring, it usually leads to good things. Sometimes you have to be good to be lucky, and you have to be lucky to be good, and Barzal was both on his game-winning goal against the Bruins on Saturday.
And hey, hasn’t Barzal now scored two goals on two shifts with Kyle Palmieri?
“Even in limited time together, Palmieri has shown to be an asset next to Barzal,” said Jon Zella of thehockeywriters.com. “The Isles need Barzal to stay hot in game five, and perhaps that means Trotz goes outside his comfort zone and puts Palmieri on the first lines a few more shifts here and there instead of just after the PK.”
Trotz had some thoughts on the matter. “People can play fantasy hockey all they want,” Trotz said in a postgame interview on MSG Networks. “Leo’s good with Barzy.”
The Islanders’ special teams have pretty much reversed themselves from the regular season. Through 10 games in the postseason, the Islanders’ power play is converting at 22.2%, while the penalty kill is struggling at a mere 66.7%. The Bruins have been doing an excellent job all postseason, converting on a whopping 32.1% in nine contests. Against the Islanders alone, the numbers are even better on the man advantage at 44.4%.
The Islanders need to get back to basics on the penalty kill. Clog lanes, block shots, clear the puck. Easier said than done but credit the Bruins for great puck movement. The easiest solution? Just stay out of the penalty box. The Bruins have so many weapons on their power play, and when some of your best penalty killers like Adam Pelech or Casey Cizikas are in the box, the job becomes that much harder.
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The Islanders’ power play has been a pleasant surprise, however. They’ll need to continue to draw penalties, and with Barzal finally looking like himself again, it’s possible it happens that much more often.
“It’s fun to watch. He’s an elite player with superstar skill and when he’s going out there, we’re following right behind him,” said Casey Cizikas after the Islanders Game 4 victory on MSG Networks.
Continuing to get bodies in front of Tuuka Rask and pucks on net at a high volume should continue to produce goals on the power play.
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James is a THW New York Islanders writer and podcast host of Nassaumen Hockey Podcast. A trusted source for Islanders content for many years at THW, James is passionate about keeping Islander fans up to date on the latest in Islanders news. Other content contributions also include his Co-Editor-in-Chief status for NYIslesBlog.com. For interview requests or to provide content info, follow James on Twitter.