The rare back-to-back opening to the New York Islanders vs. Florida Panthers Eastern Conference playoff series stirred some speculation over whether each team would go with its starter on both nights. Long-term data shows goalies tend to do worse on the second night of such a scenario, and teams mostly try to avoid it. Furthermore, there were nine goals scored last night between the two teams, and lots of shot attempts -- particularly on Isles starter Thomas Greiss, making his first playoff start.
But then that's the point. These are the playoffs. Each team had three or four days between Game 82 and Game 1. Safe to say, both coaching staffs are confident their number one goalies can handle it.
Greiss and Roberto Luongo each start in goal tonight.
Islanders vs. Panthers Game 2: How to Watch
7:30 p.m. EDT, [BBTSB&Banking&Letters] Center
TV: NHL Network (U.S.), MSG+ (New York area), Fox Sports Florida (Florida), SN360, TVA Sports 3 (Canada)
New York Radio: WCBS Newsradio 880 AM
Web stream: NBC Sports
Based on reports from the optional morning skates, it appears the Islanders won't make changes to who plays. Whether they switch any lines or pairings remains to be seen.
The Panthers hinted at possible changes up front, though there weren't many Panthers who didn't excel last night in Game 1. Rocco Grimaldi is arguably one of them. There were suggestions rookie defenseman Mike Matheson could play in place of Jakub Kindl, too. We'll see.
The bottom line is the Islanders were outplayed last night, they'll face an even more motivated team looking to avoid a home sweep in Game 2, so the overall approach will need to improve.
Last night's lines were like this (I'd prefer the top D pairings swap partners, but alas):
Kyle Okposo – John Tavares – Frans Nielsen
Nikolay Kulemin – Brock Nelson – Josh Bailey
Shane Prince – Alan Quine – Ryan Strome
Matt Martin – Casey Cizikas – Cal Clutterbuck
Nick Leddy - Travis Hamonic
Calvin de Haan - Johnny Boychuk
Thomas Hickey - Ryan Pulock
Areas to Address
On that note, Thomas Hickey's quote in Newsday was perfect:
"We play seven of those," Thomas Hickey said, "and we’ll lose four for sure. So I think we know what we need to address."
"[The Panthers] are big, fast and they're physical. They throw a lot of pucks on net from a lot of different angles. We are fortunate to come out with the win.
"On the big saves late]: I thought our defense could have had better gaps and better sticks. I thought we gave them a little bit too much time and space."
The gaps were often poor on defense as the Panthers entered the zone, and the Isles allowed wave after wave of Panthers attacks to sustain by stretching them inside the zone for repeat opportunities. Too many unpressured breakouts were sloppy (ahem, looking at Johnny Rockets), or were unsupported by forwards. The forecheck was often too slow and tepid (Josh Bailey, Nikolay Kulemin, how are you doing?).
The Isles were beaten on stretch passes early on and adjusted, but that adjustment may have cost them too much, making them too conservative in the neutral zone.
Speaking of which, the Panthers did a good job interrupting the Isles in the neutral zone, though a couple of goals (Nelson's, Strome's) came from the Islanders winning that transition.
And really, in short series (i.e. seven games vs. 82), sometimes those individual efforts make the difference. Greiss dealt with a lot and the latter two, plus Tavares, Okposo and Nielsen certainly pounced on the opportunities they got.
That's all even strength, of course. Each team notched a power play goal last night, so a disparity in special teams results could obviously swing things in another direction.
Plenty more talk about what went wrong (and right, too!) in this Good, Bad and Ugly Game 1 post.