The New York Islanders clinched a playoff spot of their closing regular-season sport with a 4-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens. The win gave them the highest wild-card spot within the Eastern Conference, whereas the staff that secured the ultimate playoff spot was the Florida Panthers. The Islanders had been eradicated within the first spherical in six video games by the Carolina Hurricanes, however the Panthers look poised to attain the Stanley Cup Final.
Related: Hurricanes & Panthers Highlight The Value of Defensive Forwards
The Panthers upset the Boston Bruins in seven video games within the first spherical after which simply defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs within the second spherical in 5 video games. Suddenly, they appear like the staff to beat, as they’re solely six wins away from a Cup title. The Panthers’ dominance, whereas spectacular, additionally exhibits how shut the Islanders are to successful the Stanley Cup. They share a number of similarities and have the traits of a contending staff, making it simple to suppose that if they will make the playoffs subsequent season, they will additionally get scorching and go on a run.
Islanders Have Elite Goaltending
Sergei Bobrovsky had a tough season and oftentimes was a legal responsibility within the web for the Panthers. He had a .901 save proportion (SV%) and a 3.07 goals-against common (GAA) on 1,466 photographs with minus-4.6 objectives saved above common (GSAA). However, within the playoffs, he’s not solely performed at a excessive stage however outdueled a number of the greatest goaltenders within the league. His .931 SV% and a couple of.32 GAA on 433 photographs with 11.3 GSAA within the playoffs and a number of dominant begins have carried the Panthers and allowed them to win a number of low-scoring video games.
Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final was a 2-1 game that was determined in extra time. The Panthers wanted a lights-out efficiency from Bobrovsky, and he gave them simply that. While he’s not the most effective goaltenders within the league and has struggled lately, he has proven that he can catch hearth at any level and carry a staff in a deep playoff run.
The Islanders have an elite goaltender, like Bobrovsky, who can get on a run and carry the staff. Ilya Sorokin had a Vezina Trophy-caliber season with a .924 SV% and a 2.34 GAA on 1,838 photographs with 36 GSAA, and his good play propelled the staff to the playoffs. He couldn’t assist the Islanders advance to Round 2 regardless of a number of sturdy begins. However, all through the season, he might string collectively a scorching streak. With Sorokin taking part in at a excessive stage, the Islanders hardly ever fell right into a dropping streak and would stay within the playoff race due to his efficiency in web.
Sorokin makes the Islanders a aggressive staff and offers them an opportunity to win on a nightly foundation. More importantly, he’s confirmed he can play at a excessive stage for sufficient video games to carry them to a Cup. While elite goaltenders struggled within the playoffs this season, world-class goaltenders have given their groups a bonus within the playoffs all through historical past and have typically been the explanation for a championship. If the Islanders can attain the playoffs, Sorokin is the kind of goaltender who can lead them in a deep playoff run.
Both Teams Have Great Defensive Forwards
The Panthers struggled all through the season defensively, permitting 3.32 objectives per sport. However, that they had the gamers in place to not solely enhance their protection however get rid of potent offenses, particularly at the ahead place. Aleksander Barkov won the Selke Trophy in 2021, whereas Matthew Tkachuk is among the greatest defensive forwards within the sport, and each skaters have stepped up defensively within the playoffs.
In the playoff run, the Panthers have allowed solely 2.85 objectives per sport, and within the final seven video games, they’ve allowed solely 13. Barkov and Tkachuk have carried the offense, however they’re making their greatest influence defensively. Barkov controls the middle of the ice and makes use of his pace and instincts to shut in on the puck and drive turnovers to begin up the offense. Tkachuk, in the meantime, is an influence ahead on the wing who creates turnovers with exhausting hits on the boards and pressures opponents within the offensive zone along with his sturdy forecheck. The Panthers’ top-six forwards haven’t solely managed video games however have restricted the opponent’s top-six forwards with their nice play in all three zones.
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The Islanders’ checking line is their fourth line, and it typically helps the staff management video games defensively. However, in addition they have nice defensive forwards within the prime six. Bo Horvat was a disappointment offensively after he was acquired during the All-Star Break, however he stepped up defensively and created turnovers from the middle place. Brock Nelson, who scored a team-high 36 objectives, additionally led the forwards with 2.4 defensive level shares and used his skating to reduce off angles and passing lanes for opponents. Hudson Fasching, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, and Kyle Palmieri all stepped up on the depth strains and helped block photographs and restrict opponents from discovering scoring possibilities.
The Islanders struggled offensively this season and fell aside within the first spherical, scoring solely 15 objectives in six video games. The offensive struggles will proceed to set them again and hold them from contending for the Cup. However, with their forwards taking part in at a excessive stage defensively, they will contend. They may also restrict any offense within the league.
Horvat, Barzal & Nelson Can Carry the Offense
The irritating a part of the Panthers’ run is that the Islanders have the goalscorers and playmakers of their ahead unit however haven’t seen the outcomes. Nelson carried the offense this season, with 36 objectives and 39 assists, whereas he was additionally one of many few shiny spots within the first spherical, scoring two objectives and three assists. Otherwise, the playoffs had been a disappointment for the highest six, with Horvat solely scoring a purpose and an help, whereas Mathew Barzal solely scored two objectives. That stated, the Islanders’ three greatest skaters can carry the offense to lead them deep into the playoffs.
Horvat has an important shot, one thing that made him a 37-goal scorer this season. Next season, he wants to not solely discover open ice within the offensive zone however begin taking pictures the puck extra to optimize his greatest ability. Barzal creates open photographs for his linemates along with his pace and passing skill. While he wants to shoot the puck extra and be extra aggressive within the offensive zone, he may also discover chemistry with Horvat, creating loads of scoring possibilities along with his passing skill. Barzal additionally is just beginning to enter his prime at 25 years previous. Next season, he can emerge because the elite ahead the Islanders hoped he’d change into when he signed the eight-year extension within the 2022 offseason.
The Islanders’ offense has struggled lately, averaging beneath 3.00 objectives per sport for the previous 5 seasons. However, the three greatest skaters cannot solely step up to carry the offense however assist flip it into one of many higher ones within the league. Nelson, Horvat, and Barzal are additionally the three skaters who can carry the staff in a playoff sequence and, in the end, by a playoff run. While they aren’t as nice as Tkachuk, Barkov, or Carter Verhaeghe, they’ve the skillsets to elevate the offense and carry the staff. The query is that if they will do it in opposition to elite defenses. This season, they confirmed they couldn’t, as they had been blanked by the Hurricanes. But, just like the Panthers, who had been swept within the second spherical a 12 months in the past, they will use the latest playoff exit as motivation to come again stronger in 2023-24.
Islanders Have the Right Coach in Place
The 2023 Playoffs have proven the significance of nice teaching. Specifically, groups want the correct coach for his or her roster. The Panthers hired Paul Maurice to convey a hearth and power behind the bench that would encourage the gamers on the ice. Similarly, the Dallas Stars have thrived beneath Pete DeBoer’s offensive affect, the Hurricanes are a disciplined staff beneath Rod Brind’Amour, and the Vegas Golden Knights have nice situational consciousness beneath Bruce Cassidy.
The Islanders’ first-year head coach Lane Lambert had loads of highs and lows behind the bench this season. He coached a extra aggressive, offensive-minded system, however within the second half of the season, turned to a defense-first mentality to safe a playoff spot. The aggressive play resulted in additional scoring possibilities but in addition extra errors, permitting opponents to discover scoring alternatives off turnovers.
That stated, Lambert’s teaching temperament by no means wavered, and he acted the identical no matter how the staff performed, which finally introduced out the perfect within the roster. He was unfazed by the stress and rigidity of the season, and his demeanor set the staff up for achievement. This season wasn’t an important one for Lambert, however it confirmed that he’s the correct individual for the Islanders and may lead them within the postseason.
Where the Islanders Need to Improve to Close That Gap
The Islanders want their defensemen to step up within the offensive zone, particularly in a playoff sequence. The sequence in opposition to the Hurricanes confirmed the hole between a superb and an elite defensive unit because the Islanders struggled to open up the offense from the purpose whereas their opposition did. Ultimately, it made the sequence one-sided and allowed the Hurricanes to advance in six games.
Another problem with the Islanders’ roster is that they lack elite forwards who can adapt like Tkachuk or Sebastian Aho of the Hurricanes. They have nice skaters within the prime six, however when they’re pressured to alter, they battle. Next season, Barzal should spherical out his sport and show he can beat opponents along with his shot. Anders Lee should present that he’s greater than only a finisher close to the crease. Palmieri has to be greater than only a sharpshooter on the wing. The Islanders have too many skaters with particular ability units, and it’s been their undoing lately. Along with including versatility to the lineup, the gamers on the staff want to alter to change into true contenders.
The Islanders have a number of room for enchancment. However, the Panthers are exhibiting that they’re shut to contending. They want to keep on the course and make a couple of minor changes to put themselves excessive and make a run at the Cup in 2023-24.