The New York Islanders are in the midst of a tough, second-round matchup with the Boston Bruins. Down 2-1 in the series, we’ve seen the Islanders’ start games slowly, allowing the Bruins to set the tempo and make the Islanders play from behind. The good news is, the Islanders have generally responded well, but good teams like the Bruins know how to close out a series. If New York plans on going the distance, they’ll need to stop conceding early goals and get to the game plan that has made them a tough team to play against over the last three seasons.
Allowing Early Goals
Fellow The Hockey Writers contributor and co-host of the Nassaumen Hockey Podcast, James Nichols, continues to mention the Islanders’ knack for allowing a goal within the first five to 10 minutes of each game. On the most recent edition of the podcast, prior to Game 3, we spoke about how important it was for the team, and for goaltender Semyon Varlamov, to escape the first period — at the very least — tied at zero. But as we’ve seen from this team as of late, the Islanders once again fell behind early.
Between the Bruins’ only two goals in Game 3, Varlamov was exceptional and kept the Islanders in the game during large stretches. He and his goaltending partner, Ilya Sorokin, have been phenomenal when called upon, especially as the rest of the team struggles out of the gate. However, it’s those early goals that are costing the team wins so far. Though the Islanders have found answers this postseason, it’s a game of inches, so if they can keep the score even closer, there’s a good chance they make it out of the second round for the second consecutive season.
We all know the Islanders’ offense isn’t a powerhouse in the league, but they are fairly decent at possessing the puck for periods of time and keeping other teams to the outside in their own zone. Their high-energy forecheck, ability to make teams pay for mistakes, and quick strikes off the rush are key points to their identity. In this series, and at other points during this playoff run, the offense has been sluggish to begin their counterpunch after allowing an early goal.
It’s been difficult to watch the Islanders let Boston set the tone early without any real sense of urgency. This isn’t a team that tries to lull other teams to sleep, and while they’re playing tough (generally) in the defensive zone, the offense seems to be sleepwalking through games at times.
However, down 1-0 going into the third period of Game 3, the Islanders flipped a switch during the intermission. The offense found their mojo, led by the third line of Kyle Palmieri, J.G. Pageau, and Travis Zajac, and began setting the pace of the game. Frankly, they looked like the better team all-around as the third period wore on, despite continuing to be heavily outshot in the period, another theme of this series. They were quick through the neutral zone, got pucks deep, and continued to pressure the Bruins until, eventually, the Islanders found the back of the net with just over five minutes remaining in the third period.
As difficult as it is for fans to watch, the team is confident playing from behind and is comfortable playing catch up. It’s a good quality to have and a huge asset in the playoffs when things can go awry in a series very quickly. However, like the Islanders, the Bruins will make you pay and they have the playoff experience to lock down a game and put a stranglehold on a series. If the Islanders can come out of the gate with the energy they showed in the third period of all three games during this series, and continue their good work on the power play, it will almost certainly go seven games.
This is a very winnable series for the Islanders, but the problems addressed here, among others, need to be straightened out before Game 4 on Saturday. This team is capable of being very tough to play against and they will need to match the Bruins’ sustained effort throughout the game, but particularly out of the gate, if they want to find success.
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!