The New York Islanders dropped an uncharacteristic game to the Tampa Bay Lightning last night, losing 8-0 in what was easily a one-sided matchup.
The tilt was reminiscent to Game 1 of the Conference Final in 2020, but this one might have been a little worse. Semyon Varlamov didn’t even make it out of the first period when head coach Barry Trotz pulled him out of the game after allowing three goals on 16 shots in just 15:27. Ilya Sorokin came in as the relief but didn’t fare much better at all, surrendering five goals on 26 shots through the remainder of the game. To be fair, it was hardly either goaltender’s fault. The Islanders simply did not adapt to the pace of play in front of the net-minders.
“It was one of those nights where we couldn’t do anything right, it didn’t go our way,” Trotz said.
Headed back home for Game 6, the Islanders need to regroup, learn from their awful Game 5, then burn the tape. Now in a do-or-die situation, here are some keys to success for Game 6 at Nassau Coliseum:
This has been a key to the Islanders’ success before, and they’ll need to get back to it again. The discipline from the Islanders was not present whatsoever in Tampa Bay as Trotz’s group racked up 57 penalty minutes. The bulk of the penalty minutes came from Mathew Barzal, Matt Martin, and Scott Mayfield, each drawing a game misconduct, and then some.
The Islanders lost Barzal after the second period when he cross-checked Jan Ruuta in the face. Already down 6-0 going into the third period, any sort of comeback wasn’t likely, and it became less likely with Barzal out of the game.
“I’m disappointed because it wasn’t going well and he dug it deeper for the guys,” said Trotz of Barzal’s game misconduct in an interview on MSG Networks. “I am disappointed in his decision there.” The hope is Barzal won’t receive a suspension for the incident. That would be a major loss with the Islanders’ season on the line.
“It could be a $5,000 fine and time served — meaning the ejection was enough punishment,” said Arthur Staple of The Athletic. “You must also wonder if Barzal plays whether a Lightning player will demand retribution in the form of a fight; taking Barzal off for five minutes in a huge Game 6 would count as a win no matter who does it, since it ain’t going to be Brayden Point or Nikita Kucherov.” (from, ‘How do Islanders get past blowout loss? Faith, hope, love and ‘Ted Lasso’,’ The Athletic, 06/22/2021).
It’s not a secret that the Lightning power play is the best in the NHL. They proved that in Game 5, converting on half of their six chances. The Isles will need to stay out of the box as much as possible on home ice, as their game is best at 5-on-5, no matter the opponent.
Pucks in Deep
The Islanders hardly had any offensive zone time in Game 5. Tampa Bay forced turnover after turnover and controlled much of the neutral zone. The Isles struggled to push the puck past the Lightning blue line, and instead of skating it over in Game 6, they’ll need to dump and chase the puck a lot more.
“It was one of those nights and you look at the things you don’t want to do,” said Trotz. We didn’t manage the puck and they turned it into transition. We turned the puck over, they came in, shot the puck, it bounced off people. These are things we can’t do.”
In the Islanders’ Game 3 loss at home, Cal Clutterbuck scored the lone goal that started with getting the puck behind Andrei Vasilevskiy’s net.
Forcing Vasilevskiy to consistently look over his should draws his attention away from what’s going on in front of him. And let’s face it, he’s the best goaltender in the league – if he sees the puck, he’s going to stop it. It’s important that the Islanders start chipping the puck past the Lightning defenders, up their physicality, win puck battles, and maintain offensive possession. They’re not going to out-skill the Lightning, so the dirty, gritty goals like Clutterbuck’s in Game 3 are more likely to cross the goal line.
Stick to the System
It’s questionable if there was a system at all in Game 5. It’s interesting too, as in Game 1, the Isles system was a well-oiled machine out-rushing the Lightning 9-0. It was quite the opposite Tuesday night as the Lightning forced eight odd-man rushes and nine scoring chances in the first period alone.
“To me, this is about each player looking inside and saying ‘I have to be ready,'” said Trotz. “We’ll be better, we understand that.”
Typically in the Trotz era, the Islanders are a resilient bunch, so expect them to bounce back with a strong effort in Game 6 in front of their fans. At the end of the day, whether the score was 8-0 or 2-1, as it only counts as one loss. The leadership in the locker room will surely speak to leaving Game 5 in the rearview mirror, look forward to Game 6, and return to form.
“This group plays for one another, a high character group,” said Brock Nelson. “We’ll leave this one here, learn from it, and come out better at the Coli.”
“A loss is a loss this time of year. Whether if it was in double overtime or the way it went tonight,” Kyle Palmieri said. “We’ll wake up tomorrow down 3-2 headed home with our back against the wall. We have a chance to win a game at home. That’s what we’re focused on now.”
It’s an uphill battle from here for the Islanders, and we’ll see just how battle-tested they are Wednesday night. Trotz and co. will be fighting for a chance to keep their Stanley Cup aspirations alive and the right to play another game on the road in Tampa Bay if they force a Game 7.
“At the end of the day, we’re going home, and we have to earn the right to keep playing,” Trotz said. “We could have lost in double OT, and it’s the same result. We can fix a lot of what we did today, and we’ll have to have our best game.”
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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.