With the upcoming 24-team playoff format, the New York Islanders have high hopes of making a run for the Stanley Cup. A team decimated by injuries for most of the season, the Islanders now have a healthy roster for their play-in series with the Florida Panthers.
Islanders Top Lines
For most of the season, the Islanders kept Anders Lee, Mat Barzal, and Jordan Eberle on the top line. This trio finished in the top-five in goals scored on the team and built chemistry once Eberle returned from his early-season injury. The winger struggled to register his first goal of the season, but broke out with two against the Detroit Red Wings in December and didn’t look back. He had a hat-trick later in the season, also against Detroit.
New York also has an established second line, with Anthony Beauvillier, Brock Nelson, and Josh Bailey. At times, Derick Brassard played on the wing, as he struggled at center this season, but the regular line was clutch all season. Nelson and Beauvillier combined for five overtime goals with Nelson reaching a career-high of 26 goals.
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While the Islanders iced Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck as the fourth line, they get as much playing time as some teams’ top lines. Cizikas will be back from what was supposed to be a season-ending injury, and that trio will be locked to see plenty of time against the Aleksander Barkov line and on the penalty kill.
Third Line Option
With the addition of Jean-Gabriel Pageau, the Islanders will have their top four centers for the first time this season. Although the Islanders struggled to win during Pageau’s brief tenure, the team has many options to play on his wing.
As the rosters are likely to expand for the playoffs, head coach Barry Trotz will have to choose between veterans or rookies. Leo Komarov will probably earn a spot due to his strong play on special teams, but that also leaves the door open for one of the rookies, Oliver Wahlstrom or Kieffer Bellows, or more experienced players like Andrew Ladd and Brassard to play on the third line.
Having Komarov out there will hurt the Islanders’ offense, so it would make sense to try a goal scorer on the other wing. Bellows has scored a couple of goals in the NHL but, like Wahlstrom, was sent back to the AHL. Ladd has the most experience out of this group and showed positive signs late in the season. However, he doesn’t have the goal-scoring ability he used to have. The Islanders will probably use Komarov, Pageau, and Brassard, but the lack of a goal scorer on that line will hurt their chances.
Adam Pelech is back from an injury sustained earlier in the season, and he will likely return to the first pairing with Ryan Pulock. Those two showed tremendous growth throughout the season and have been a shutdown pairing. Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy will undoubtedly be in the lineup leaving the Islanders with only two spots left on defense.
Despite acquiring Andy Greene at the deadline, he will likely be the seventh defenseman with Scott Mayfield and Devon Toews rounding out the group. That also means Noah Dobson will be a healthy scratch along with Thomas Hickey, who had a memorable overtime goal against the Panthers in 2016.
The Islanders haven’t shown any indication they would dress seven defensemen, but that would allow for better ice time management and for Barzal and Eberle to play more minutes.
In the playoffs, teams generally teams ride with their number one goaltender. It’s different for the Islanders. They had Semyon Varlamov and Thomas Greiss alternate in net for the first half of the season. Greiss also showed his ability in the 2016 playoffs when he dominated the Panthers. Varlamov will likely be given the nod, but Greiss could see time if the Islanders need a boost.
Both netminders put up similar numbers this season, and each had moments of brilliance. However, neither was able to become the clear number one. Both received playing time against the Panthers this season and earned wins. Who plays may come down to who is stronger in practice leading up to the series.
This season is unique, and the Islanders now have an opportunity to make a playoff run. With their struggles down the stretch, they were not going to be a playoff team, and this format will give them a chance to become one. It’s a great time to build off last season’s series win and make a run for their fifth Stanley Cup.