Since the NHL Trade Deadline, which seems like it was nearly a lifetime ago, there has been a long-standing narrative about the New York Islanders’ depth. Well, in Game 1 of the second round against the Philadelphia Flyers, the Islanders’ ability to roll four lines led Barry Trotz and Co. to a 4-0 victory.
Prior to Monday night’s win over the Flyers, Andy Greene had not scored a playoff goal in 10 seasons. He quickly changed that in the first period, putting the Islanders up 1-0 just over six minutes in with a shot from the blue-line that found twine.
“Greene, whom the Islanders acquired from the Devils in February, was a disciplined force whose play was contagious. A captain in New Jersey for nearly five years, Greene played like a leader,” wrote the New York Post’s Mollie Walker. (from ‘Islanders follow Andy Greene’s lead to Game 1 win over Flyers,’ New York Post, 08/24/2020)
The first period ended, and the Isles looked a little sluggish in the second. Luckily, goaltender Semyon Varlamov was absolutely dialed in and held the Flyers off the scoresheet as the Islanders were outshot 15-7 in the second period.
There was some question when Ross Johnston dressed for Monday night’s game. He quickly put those questions to rest as one of the better players on the ice.
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Johnston’s excellent forecheck in the third period resulted in an insurance goal by J.G. Pageau, putting the Islanders up 2-0. Later in the period, Johnston almost created another chance on a similar opportunity on the forecheck.
“Ross the Boss” knows his role, and that is to throw the body and push players off the puck. He did exactly that as Johnston registered a total of 10 hits in the contest.
Despite only registering one point, the Islanders second line continued to look strong against the Flyers. The trio of Anthony Beauvillier, Brock Nelson, and Josh Bailey continued their high-paced play, generating a plethora of scoring chances and driving the puck deep into the offensive zone.
Nelson had a strong game in the faceoff circle, winning 12 of 18 draws (66.7 percent), and tacking on an assist as well. The first line created the Islanders’ third goal on a pretty tic-tac-toe play, and Anders Lee did not miss on an open net.
Varlamov Stands Tall
Not only did Varlamov help the Islanders escape a less-than-stellar second period, but he also inserted his name behind only Billy Smith for the longest shutout streak at 136:20. Smith’s record stands at 136:59, therefore the Isles could have a new shutout leader by the first minute of Game 2.
“He’s playing fantastic,” Islanders defenseman Andy Greene said of Varlamov. “He’s making the hard saves look easy. When there are breakdowns, we know he’s there for us. And vice versa. We’re trying to let him see the pucks. If we can clear the traffic out, he’s going to make the save.” (from ‘Semyon Varlamov outplays Carter Hart as Islanders blank Flyers in Game 1,’ Newsday, 08/24/2020)
When praised about his play in net, Varlamov quickly deflected to the team’s success as a whole. “We’re playing well defensively, of course I’m going to mention that,” said Varlamov, whose previous two playoff shutouts came in 2009 while with the Capitals. “The guys played well in front. It feels good to get back-to-back shutouts. But, at this point, it’s not about shutouts. To me, the most important thing is to get the win and get ready for the next game. Of course, I’m excited about it, I’m not going to lie. But it is what it is.”
Offense All Over
It’s been a great summer for the Islanders so far on the scoresheet, as the team has averaged 3.33 goals per game while in the bubble. Another great performance Monday night saw the Isles fill the net four times.
What’s most impressive about those four goals is that nine different Islanders tallied a point in the 4-0 win. While playing in the bubble, they have outscored their opponents 21-6 while skating at 5-on-5.
The balance on the scoresheet is evident. Two goals from the blue-line (Greene and Devon Toews), and two goals from the forwards (Pageau and Lee), really speak to how the group as a whole is contributing.
“We win as a group,” Matt Martin asserted. “We don’t rely on anyone, really.”
If the old saying “defense wins championships” is true, then look out for the Islanders as one of the eight remaining teams in the Stanley Cup playoffs. It’s quite possible that Trotz has groomed one of the most disciplined teams in the bubble.
It might not be the most “sexy” style of play, but the Islanders get the job seemingly every night. They stayed out of the penalty box, for the most part, with only four minutes in penalties, and went 1-for-1 on the penalty kill.
“They played as well as any team in our bubble here in Toronto,” Fletcher said. “They play with purpose and structure and identity.”
Pelech led the Isles in time on ice with 21:42, and blocked two shots. Greene had a fantastic game in his own end as well, blocking four shots and preventing the Flyers from converting on chances.
Although the Islanders were largely outshot in the second period, not many high-danger chances were created by the Flyers, as Trotz has installed a system that limits opponents to shoot from the perimeter.
The Islanders continue to suffocate opponents and limit the scoring chances, making it really frustrating to play against. “We just trust it. We know what works for us,” Trotz said. “We understand how you win in the playoffs.”
It seems like it doesn’t matter who Trotz inserts into the lineup, the Islanders are getting it done almost every night. The team’s depth is paying dividends and contributions are coming throughout the entire lineup.
The Isles came into Round 2 with the best team goals-against average (1.67 GAA) and continued that trend shutting the Flyers out in Game 1. They’ll look to carry that momentum into Game 2 on Wednesday, when the Islanders face the Flyers at 3 P.M. EST.
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