Questions Loom as Islanders Prepare for Highly-Anticipated Game 7

The last two games have been heartbreaking for the New York Islanders. After taking a commanding three games to one lead in their second-round series against the Philadelphia Flyers, they lost back-to-back overtime games, forcing Game 7 on Saturday. Now, they’re preparing for a matchup that, in all honesty, is a toss-up after six games of squandered leads, dramatic comebacks, and anger-inducing plays. But what changes can be made to ensure the Islanders can punch their ticket to Edmonton?

Will Varlamov Start?

By many accounts, Semyon Varlamov has been lights out for the Islanders in these playoffs. The occasional soft goal, usually due to a lack of aggressiveness, has squeaked by, but nothing of too much concern. Going into Game 6 following another overtime loss, however, head coach Barry Trotz made the decision to stick with Varlamov. Even as Thomas Greiss played spectacularly in a game-four win on the second half of a back-to-back, Trotz went with his gut. Now, the Islanders’ bench boss is left with a nearly impossible decision for Game 7.

As if the decision wasn’t difficult enough, looking at the numbers from Game 6 leaves some reasonable doubt for Islanders’ fans, and perhaps the coaching staff as well. The Islanders’ offense has been on an absolute tear in this series, scoring at least three goals in every single game. Things were no different in Game 6, as the team continued to get contributions from up and down the lineup. Unfortunately, Varlamov wasn’t there to bail them out this time.

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While the final shots were 53 to 31 in the Islanders’ favor, heading into the first overtime, the Islanders held a 42 to 17 advantage with the score tied at four. To be fair, not all of the goals were Varlamov’s fault, but some called for Varlamov to be pulled after the Flyers took a 2-0 lead on a James van Riemsdyk goal or, at the very least, after the first period. As tough as that would have been for Varlamov’s confidence, two goals on five shots through the first period isn’t a recipe for success, whether the goals were his fault or not.

Lineup Adjustments Coming?

Trotz has done an amazing job in these playoffs hitting the right buttons with this team. Every time he has made an adjustment to the lineup, the Islanders have responded. The issue this time around? The Islanders played pretty well in this game, especially the forward lines most susceptible to changes.

Derick Brassard, an unpopular Islander at times who has been in and out of the lineup, was phenomenal over the last two games; Leo Komarov has been as steady as any Islander and is a critical part of the penalty kill; even Matt Martin has contributed four goals in this postseason. So, Trotz is left with yet another question heading into Game 7 – what buttons can he push now?

Derick Brassard New York Islanders
Derick Brassard, New York Islanders (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Even the best armchair coach or general manager would have a difficult time making changes to a forward group that, by and large, dominated the top-seeded Flyers in Game 6. The mistakes that did happen, namely missed assignments in front and a number of turnovers, point to the defense.

But even there, outside of this game and a few issues here and there throughout the playoffs, this group has played very well. This includes 37-year-old Andy Greene, who has been as steady as any defender in the lineup next to Nick Leddy after Johnny Boychuk went down with an injury in Game 1 of the Qualifying Round series against the Florida Panthers.

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The Islanders will have their third opportunity to close out the series this Saturday against the Flyers. Unfortunately, the odds are in favor of Philadelphia, according to “Teams that win games 5 and 6 after trailing a series 3-1 are 29-28 (50.8%) winning a best-of-seven Stanley Cup Playoffs series.” The Islanders can advance to the Eastern Conference Final for the first time since 1993 with a win on Saturday.

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