The New York Islanders lost Game 3 to the Boston Bruins 2-1 in overtime, with Brad Marchand finding the back of the net with one of the best shots in the game. The game swung the momentum back to the Bruins, while the Islanders were left stunned by the sudden goal and how the game was ultimately lost. Looking back at the defeat, there are plenty of elements of the game that need adjustments, but one of the most crucial parts of the game was how the offense looked hapless for the majority of the game. The team was able to generate scoring chances but ultimately couldn’t find the back of the net. With the opponent making adjustments in the recent game defensively, head coach Barry Trotz will have to consider how the offense can improve and win the upcoming game and this series.
Counter the Bruins Aggressiveness
The Bruins appeared to play a more aggressive style of hockey in the recent game, pressuring the Islanders skaters when they would possess the puck in the offensive zone. This strategy paid off dividends for the Bruins as they were able to constantly force turnovers while also taking advantage of the speed in their defensive pairing, a unit that was able to recover and still force turnovers in the neutral zone if the Islanders skaters were able to escape the initial pressure.
This strategy allowed the Islanders’ opponent to find their first goal in Game 3 as Taylor Hall was able to gather the puck in the offensive zone to find Craig Smith open in front of the net. Throughout the game, it was also more difficult for the offense to even enter their progressions as the opponent pressure would force the hand of defensemen like Nick Leddy or Noah Dobson, who are generally used to starting up the offense following a created turnover.
The Islanders must counter the Bruins’ aggressive play in the offensive zone in order to succeed in the rest of the series but will need to focus on two elements of their game in order to do so. For starters, they must be able to methodically move the puck out of the defensive zone following a turnover rather than simply sending the puck down the ice. This will limit the ability for a continuous attack on the net while also allowing the offense to get set up and find more opportunities.
Moreover, the Islanders must be able to retain the puck in the offensive zone more, keeping the game in their control while limiting the Bruins’ ability to start odd-man rushes. Keeping the puck in the offensive zone sounds easier than it actually is considering the opponents’ defensemen in Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk are exceptional at creating turnovers to set up their offense, however, the series can get out of control otherwise.
The Top Line Must Change
The Islanders’ offense only managed to score once in the entire game, and it came in the final six minutes of the game. Needless to say, the offense looked hapless in the game. The goal came from Mathew Barzal, who scored his first goal in the Stanley Cup Playoffs despite scoring 17 goals in the regular season. While the goal signaled that the top line might be finding a rhythm and can start to impact the second-round series, it was interesting to see the change on the top line with Kyle Palmieri helping set up the goal rather than Leo Komarov.
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While Komarov has been playing well defensively in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, creating turnovers on both ends of the ice with hard hits and a strong forecheck, the 34-year-old forward has struggled throughout the season to help the offense and is limiting a top line that needs to be effective if the Islanders are to advance to the next round.
It would appear that starting Palmieri on the top line will fix a lot of the issues that have appeared on that shift, with his play-making complimenting Barzal and Jordan Eberle. The problem is that by moving Palmieri, the Islanders risk losing the chemistry that has been established with the acquired forward and Jean-Gabriel Pageau. The same can be said about most of the Islanders forwards, considering the success that some of the other lines have experienced in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It’s possible that when Oliver Wahlstrom returns to the lineup, he will be on the top line, but the underlying problem is that the team needs to find that spark from their bast scorers and have yet to find any thus far, creating issues for the offense in its entirety.
Continued Shots From the Point
The Islanders scored one of their four goals in their Game 2 4-3 overtime victory with a shot from the point by Nick Leddy that ricocheted off the boards to find Palmieri in front of the net for a goal. Likewise, Game 1 saw the offense only score twice, with both goals being generated from the point, with Noah Dobson firing a shot on the net that was redirected by Anthony Beauvillier into the back of the net and Adam Pelech finding a goal with a hard shot from the point as well. Throughout the playoffs, the Islanders’ play from the point has helped the offense immensely and oftentimes carry the team.
The Islanders’ offense has struggled throughout the regular season, and the Stanley Cup Playoffs have been no different. The team needs a scoring presence from the point, considering how it will open up the offense and create more passing lanes while also allowing the club to find more scoring opportunities. In the recent defeat, the defensemen continued to create from the point but not enough to help lead the team to a victory, making the upcoming games more critical to find that scoring presence where there otherwise wouldn’t be one available.
What Else the Islanders Need to Adjust
It’s hard to look back at Game 3 and the series to this point and not recognize the great play that has been displayed by the Bruins. The Islanders’ opponent has played excellent on both ends of the ice, and as a result, there is little room for error. The Islanders must make offensive adjustments to remain competitive in the series, but the play on the defensive end of the ice must be improved as well.
Additionally, head coach Barry Trotz needs to solve the goaltending woes, with Semyon Varlamov playing respectably in the two games he’s started, including leading the Game 2 victory but has allowed crucial goals, including the overtime one where he allowed the top right corner of the net to be exposed. It’s possible that Ilya Sorokin will start the next game in the net, but like Varlamov, there is reason to be nervous considering he allowed four goals in Game 1, and another bad performance can potentially end the series.
Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November 2020 and covers the New York Islanders. In addition to covering the Islanders, Fink writes about the NHL at large and contributes as a weekly guest to The Hockey Writers Podcast. Follow Mike on Twitter @Finks_thoughts for more Islanders and general hockey insights.