The New York Islanders have reached the semifinal in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in back-to-back seasons and look to win the Stanley Cup this season for the first time since the 1982-83 NHL Season. The Islanders have been one of the best teams in their division since Barry Trotz became the head coach and are poised to be one of the best teams in the Metropolitan Division in the upcoming season. The division itself is going to be a competitive one with multiple talented rosters that can similarly compete for the Cup this season.
For the Islanders’ divisional opponents, the question has to be how they can win against them and how do they match up as well? The Islanders are going to be a tough team to defeat on a nightly basis, but the Metropolitan Division is filled with teams that have the players or units to exploit the talented team.
The Hurricanes are entering this season with high expectations after winning 38 games to finish with the best record in the Central Division and losing to the eventual Stanley Cup Champions in the second round against the Tampa Bay Lightning. As they return to the Metropolitan Division, the Hurricanes will not only give the Islanders competition in the standings but will provide great matchups in their meetings with their great offense, which scored 3.13 goals per game last season and looks to improve with the acquisition of Jesprei Kotkaniemi. Likewise, the games will provide a unique opportunity for the Islanders scoring depth to find goals.
The Hurricanes will hope to turn these matchups into high-scoring games, with their potent offense trying to find goals against the Islanders’ defense. Specifically, the Hurricanes are going to look to find cross-ice passes with Sebastian Aho, Vincent Trocheck, and their top forwards that specialize in getting quick shots to get the goaltender out of position. Against the Islanders, well-executed cross-ice passes can overwhelm the defense and create tough shots for Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin to stop.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets are a young team in a full rebuild, with only two skaters in Gustav Nyquist and Jakub Voracek that are 30 years old or older. The Islanders will look to capitalize on their multiple meetings with the rebuilding team, but the Blue Jackets can easily catch them off-guard and steal multiple games in the process.
The Blue Jackets will try to match the Islanders’ defense with a strong defense of their own. While the front office traded Seth Jones in the off-season, they also acquired Jake Bean, who will improve any defensive pairing, along with Zach Werenski, who looks to emerge as the leader of the unit. Likewise, the Blue Jackets will try to take advantage of their significantly younger roster, as the Islanders are expected to start one of the older rosters in the 2020-21 NHL season. With the young forwards, most notably 24-year-old Jack Roslovic and 23-year-old Patrick Laine, finding space in the offensive zone to find open shots, especially with 44-year-old defenseman Zdeno Chara or 38-year-old defenseman Andy Greene on the ice, it’s likely to see upsets and surprise result in these matchups.
New Jersey Devils
The Devils are a new team after an offseason where the front office acquired proven veterans in Dougie Hamilton, Ryan Graves, and Tomas Tatar, helping out the forward depth and defensive unit alike. When facing the Islanders, the matchups will ultimately be a test of depth for both teams, and the third or fourth forward line or third defensive pairing can decide many of the meetings. The Islanders have the deeper roster and a more proven goaltending duo, but the Devils can pile on the wins with the right line combinations, especially if Jack Hughes can find space on the ice with forwards that help with his speed.
New York Rangers
The Islanders reminded the Rangers last season that their roster was promising but still a year away, with the Islanders winning six of the eight regular-season matchups. The Rangers are now ready to compete with their young roster starting to reach the primes of their careers. As a result, the games between the two New York teams might not only be the most entertaining in the Metropolitan Division but also might determine which of the two teams finishes near the top of the division as well.
The Rangers will try to win in the neutral zone and from the point, with top-tier defensemen Adam Fox, who won the Norris Trophy last season, as well as Ryan Lindgren, and K’Andre Miller leading the way and allowing young forwards like Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko to take advantage of their speed. Moreover, the Rangers’ top line, led by Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad, was most effective last season on the odd-man rush and will try to steal a few goals against an Islanders defense that is talented and a great skating unit but susceptible to goals when the opponent is given space. The big advantage for the Islanders, however, will be the forward unit taking advantage of the third defensive pairing, which can allow forwards like Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Kyle Palmieri to find the back of the net if the defensive depth fails to hold up.
The Islanders played well against the Flyers last season, winning five of the eight meetings primarily with the Flyers’ goaltending unit struggling. The 22-year-old Carter Hart put together a 3.67 goals against average (GAA) and a .877 save percentage (SV%) on 721 shots a season after a 2.42 GAA and .914 SV% on 1005 shots in 2019-20.
Considering the fact that Hart is expected to return to his 2019-20 form, and six of the eight matchups last season went to overtime or even a shootout, the Flyers have plenty of reason to believe they will play better this season against the Islanders. The primary focus for the Flyers in these games will be on their top scorers in Kevin Hayes, Joel Farabee, James van Riemsdyk, and Claude Giroux overwhelming any defense. On the other end of the ice, the revamped defense, which now features Keith Yandle, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Ryan Ellis, all of whom the Flyers acquired in the offseason, will hope to limit the opposing offense and limit the pressure on the goaltenders.
The Penguins won six of the eight regular-season games against the Islanders but then lost in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in six games. The regular season and the playoffs were a testament to two coaches finding weaknesses in their opponents and exploiting them at will, most notably, with the Islanders finding multiple goals to Tristan Jarry’s glove side with multiple quick shots on the 26-year-old goaltender who struggled with the glove.
The Penguins are going to continue to take advantage of their potent offense, which scored 3.45 goals last season led by a top line of Sidney Crosby, Bryan Rust, and Jake Guentzel, who all scored 20 goals or more last season. Against the Islanders, in particular, the top line and forwards unit altogether will try to beat them with speed, as it led to multiple goals in the matchups last season, especially off of turnovers in the defensive zone that directly correlated to odd-man rushes. The question for the Penguins is going to be if their defense and goaltending can hold up, especially after losing defenseman Cody Ceci in free agency, who was one of the best defensemen for the team last season. The Islanders will continue to test the goaltending and defense alike with some of the accurate shooters like Oliver Wahlstrom and Anders Lee searching for the back of the net, daring Jarry or backup Casey DeSmith to step up and make the saves.
The matchups between the Capitals and the Islanders are going to come down to the Capitals’ offense, which scored 3.36 goals per game last season, against the Islanders’ defense, which only allowed 2.23 goals per game last year. The meetings are going to be decided by which team keeps the puck in the offensive zone more and which team allows their scorers to find open shots on the net.
Furthermore, the Capitals will hope to continue to take advantage of the power play with Alexander Ovechkin capitalizing on opportunities from the faceoff circle. Last season the Capitals scored on 24.84 percent of power plays. The Islanders are great in the defensive zone and limit passing lanes but are vulnerable when opponents can create open passes with the man advantage.
How the Islanders Will Exploit Their Divisional Rivals
The Islanders have proven throughout the past few seasons that they are a tough matchup on a nightly basis. And with a complete roster heading into the upcoming season, it’s hard to see the Metropolitan Division finding many weaknesses. This plays into the Islanders’ strength of overwhelming opponents with four potent forward lines and three strong defensive pairings, which allows them to defeat any roster, especially on the back end. In addition, the roster has seen in recent seasons some of their skaters emerge as star players, including forward Mathew Barzal and defensemen Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock. The division is going to be competitive, and the team that was only a game away from the Stanley Cup Final last year is going to be near the top of the division once again.