Islanders Struggle With Defense, Discipline, & Officiating in Game 2 Loss

The New York Islanders fell to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 2 of their semi-final rematch last night 4-2. In comparison to Game 1, tempers were high in last night’s contest, and Tampa Bay reminded the Islanders why they’re the defending Stanley Cup champions. Now the two teams head to Long Island for the next two games, and after the Lightning made an adjustment in Game 2, expect the same for the Islanders in Game 3.

Let’s explore the takeaways from the 4-1 loss in Tampa Bay:

Discipline

The Lightning had an agenda from puck drop in Game 2, and on that agenda was to frustrate the Islanders and draw penalties. It certainly worked, as the Islanders went to the penalty kill five times and racked up a total of 33 penalty minutes.

“Tonight, we kept them at 20 percent, which is half the rate that they usually hit at, [but] yeah, we just can’t take that many (penalties),” Barry Trotz said. “And they were taking some liberties tonight, [but] you know, it’s a long series.”

The penalty kill was great, but when you take five penalties; especially against the top power play in the NHL; you’re bound to give up a goal. The PK went 1/5 in Game 2, so killing penalties isn’t the problem. The Islanders are best when skating 5-on-5, and for 18 minutes of Game 2, the Islanders were short-handed, and for 33 minutes, someone was in the penalty box. Leo Komarov added a bulk of minutes to the Islanders penalty total with a game misconduct in the third period and an extra two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct. As one of the Islanders’ best penalty killers, that’s a double negative for Trotz and the Isles penalty killers.

The Islanders are going to have to take a page out of Auston Matthews’ book and not feed into the Lightning’s shenanigans post-whistle. Look for the Islanders to rebound with plenty of discipline in Game 3.

Defense

The Lightning’s talent was on full display last night. I mean seriously, take a look at this nonsense from Nikita Kucherov:

So what does he do? Kucherov follows up one absurd assist, with another:

Granted, there were too many men on the ice for Tampa Bay, but we’ll get to that later.

That doesn’t take away from the skill that was put on display by the defending Cup champs. The Islanders were out-skilled in Game 2, something you did not see in much of Game 1. Despite the trickery of Kucherov, a simple fix on the Lightning’s first goal comes in the form of Ryan Pulock. He simply lost his assignment and left Brayden Point all alone on top of Semyon Varlamov’s crease. A body on Point would simply make it tougher for Point to roof that puck and could have saved a goal.

On Kucherov’s second magic trick, he drew two defenders. It was a good play by him, but Mathew Barzal shouldn’t have pinched and stayed with eventual goal-scorer Ondrej Palat.

“Obviously Kucherov bought himself some time, usually you have to be aware, a bit of a bad read, but Mat thought he could interrupt the play a little bit,” said Trotz in a postgame interview on MSG Networks.

It’s easy to get lost in the dazzle of the Lightning’s offense, but that’s no excuse. Getting back to their Game 1 structure should put the Islanders back in a position to win Game 3 on Thursday night.

Goaltending

An unfortunate sequence of events that saw Point run into Varlamov hard in the first period resulted in the Islanders goaltender coming out of the game (for the time being) and for Ilya Sorokin to come in as relief.

Sorokin was strong making six saves on six shots to close out the first period.

“Yeah thats not an easy situation to be put in,” Matt Martin said of Sorokin. “Coming in cold against the hottest offense in the league. He made some key saves and got us to the second period. Hats off to him, that’s not easy.”

At the start of the second period, Varlamov was cleared to return to the game by the NHL’s concussion spotters.

“First and foremost, I’m really glad to see ‘Varly’ come back in the game,” Point said. “You don’t want to have collisions like that, and I certainly wasn’t trying to hurt anybody, so I was super happy to see he was all right and able to finish the game and came back. … It happens fast, so I can’t really blame anyone (for the penalty). I’m just glad everyone was all right because you don’t like to see collisions like that.”

Both Varlamov and Sorokin played really well in Game 2, and the four goals-against are hardly the goaltenders’ fault. The issue, as stated earlier, was the play in front of the Islanders goaltenders, so expect to see Varlamov get the nod again in Game 3.

“Through my time here, at least, we’ve had good goalies, two really good goalies,” said Scott Mayfield on the Islanders goaltenders. “It takes pressure off us, you see what happened with Varly, Soroky comes in and handled it. They’re great guys, great teammates and we love playing in front of them.”

Officiating

It’s no secret that NHL officials have been under scrutiny this postseason. In Game 2, it happened again on both sides of the ice when Point was called for goaltender interference after being pushed into Varlamov’s crease. It resulted in a power-play goal by Brock Nelson for the Islanders, but the Lightning would get their fair share of make-up calls too, or lack thereof.

As Dom Luszczyszyn of The Athletic once said, “when the stakes are at their highest, when there’s the most to lose, the actual rules matter less and this beautiful game suffers as a result. The inconsistent standard for playoff officiating is a stain on the league, an embarrassment that we’ve all just accepted because it’s the same thing every year.” (from, ‘Luszczyszyn: NHL playoff officiating is an embarrassment we’ve accepted for too long,’ The Athletic, 05/25/2021).

Inconsistent is a great word for it. Despite some faulty coverage in the second period, the Lightning scored their second goal with too many men on the ice.

It’s no excuse for the Islanders, it was bad defense, and the sixth man hardly has anything to do with the play. That being said, how do four officials miss this many skaters on the ice for one team?

“The second goal, that one hurt quite a bit,” Trotz said. “If they get the third one there’s a little more separation. And you guys know there’s too many men on the ice. There’s seven guys. So I’m disappointed in that.” (from, ‘Islanders fall to Lightning in chippy Game 2 that ties the series,’ The Athletic, 06/16/2021)

At the end of the day, there’s not much both the Islanders and the Lightning can do about the officiating. The only thing the Islanders can do going into Game 3 is try and stay as disciplined as possible and stay out of the penalty box. Easier said than done, especially with one bad call resulting in another “make-up call” going the other way.

Regardless, the Islanders come away with a split on the road yet again and head back to Nassau Coliseum in the same position they were in the first two rounds.

“You want to win both, but a split is how we started each series so far,” said Mayfield. “We’re excited to get back to our house, the Coli, where we know our fans will be loud.”

Look for the Islanders to respond with an adjustment of their own to reclaim the series lead on home ice.

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!


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