Islanders’ Power Play Hindering Playoff Dominance

The New York Islanders fell to the Washington Capitals in Game 4 Tuesday night, failing to convert a series sweep.

There were a number of reasons the Islanders lost, but the biggest, glaring issue — and not just last night — is their power play. This should come as a surprise to no one, as the Islanders’ power play in the 2019-20 season sat at 24th overall in the league with a 17.3% success rate.

Related: A Brief History of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum

Not only did the Islanders fail to score on five chances on the man-advantage in Game 4, but they failed to convert on another five this past Sunday as well, despite coming away with the victory in Game 3. A combined 0/10 in the last two games, and 1/19 in the series is keeping the Islanders from being a truly dominant team in the playoffs.

“Trotz and Mathew Barzal both felt the power play had some good setups in Game 4, and the Isles did pump 12 shots on Braden Holtby in their five power-play opportunities,” said Arthur Staple. (from ‘What changes we could see from the Isles in Game 5 after conceding the sweep,’ TheAthletic, 08/19/2020)

Barry Trotz
New York Islanders coach Barry Trotz behind the bench. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

While it’s true that the Islanders were able to throw a flurry of shots Holtby’s way with a man-advantage, they were unable to find the back of the net, and came short of a win that was very much in reach, had they converted on just one of those power plays.

Give credit where it’s due, the Capitals are very good on the penalty kill. Most notably, Islanders villain and Capitals forward, Tom Wilson, has been an effective penalty killer for the Capitals. However, much of the Islanders’ power play still feels forced.

New York Islanders Anthony Beauvillier Washington Capitals Tom Wilson
New York Islanders left wing Anthony Beauvillier battles for the puck with Washington Capitals right wing Tom Wilson (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

The second line hasn’t had the same mojo since the series against the Florida Panthers, and it has shown on special teams. The unit consisting of Brock Nelson, Anthony Beauvillier, and Josh Bailey generated a few chances in Game 4, but the much-too-predictable power play saw too many forced feeds, such as one to Beauvillier in the bumper spot, even though he hit iron twice.

“They got a big one there with Ovi on their power play, and we had looks tonight. We’ve got to find a way to put one in the back of the net. We knew coming into this series special teams was probably going to be a deciding factor in some games, and not that it was tonight, but for them to get that second goal, that was huge for them… We’ve just got to make an adjustment. Their [penalty kill] has done well with watching video obviously and taking away our options, so we’ve got to do the same and try to find a way to exploit it a bit.” 

Mathew Barzal

A big factor in why the power play has been so unsuccessful has been the lack of movement to create shooting lanes, and failure to keep the puck in the offensive zone while up a man.

“Those 50-50 pucks, we just didn’t come out with it enough to turn the tide,” captain Anders Lee said. “It put us behind. I don’t think we executed as well as we needed to tonight. We need to gain some of that possession back and try to create something.” (from ‘Islanders waste two-goal lead, fail to sweep Capitals in Game 4 loss,’ Newsday, 08/19/2020)

Changing up the power play units may be a bit of a challenging task for head coach Barry Trotz, as most, if not all, of his firepower is already on both units. The most we may see is some shuffling between the two. “But if it’s 4F/1D, it can’t be Pulock, who doesn’t have the agility to quarterback the way Leddy does, and removing Pulock’s big shot also feels like a mistake. So things will likely stay as they are, but perhaps with a few more surprises once they set up,” said Staple.

Capital Punishment

The Capitals did a good job of doing what the Islanders had done to them for most of this series, suffocating them in the offensive zone and outworking the Isles in their own end.

After the Islanders’ second goal by Barzal, Capitals head coach Todd Reirden used the team’s only timeout in the first period.

“I think I started to see it [turn] in the second half of the first period,” Reirden said. “We started to get some good visuals of how we have to play if we’re going to continue to be a part of this tournament and be in the playoffs.”

The Islanders were without forward Cal Clutterbuck for the third period due to injury, but it is reported that he’ll be available for Game 5.

The Capitals were without forward Nicklas Backstrom again in Game 4, and his status is unknown for Game 5 tonight.

Related: How Much Do Players Get Paid in the Playoffs?

Trotz has been consistent with his lines throughout the series, but he is contemplating changes to Game 5’s lineup. Whatever the lineup looks like, special teams, specifically the power play, will have to be much stronger for the remainder of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, if the Islanders plan to make a deep run.

Want more Islanders content? Check out the Nassaumen Hockey Podcast, hosted by The Hockey Writers authors James Nichols and Jon Zella. Follow on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts!