The New York Islanders were far better in Game 2 than in their Game 1 victory, and were even arguably the slightly better team when ignoring the all-important "um yeah, who scored more goals?" question.
But the hockey gods, of which Roberto Luongo is arguably one and kind of played like one tonight, saw fit to even the score after the Isles stole victory in Game 1. Fair enough.
What did we learn, what solace can we take, and what should we worry about as the series shifts to New York?
1. The Islanders Really Need to Shoot the Puck. More.
Look, obviously not everyone is going to snipe as successfully as Brock Nelson, Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen did in Game 1. And the Isles had 42 shots on Luongo. But they could have had more. Ryan Strome, Ryan Pulock and Calvin de Haan each passed up golden shooting opportunities. (I'll include Josh Bailey in that because it's a safe assumption on most nights.)
Pulock I'll excuse because: 1) his "pass up" situations were justifiable in that his risk was having his shot blocked and going the other way, and 3) he's a rookie on a short leash, so I don't blame him for wanting to avoid mistakes.
Pulock did have some shots go high and wide though, which is a thing that happens but which you also hope he corrects.
2. But the Isles Were Better. That Bodes Well.
There are "scoreboard!" and "winning is the only thing" camps among us, sure, but winning a series involves figuring out what you're doing right and wrong. The Isles did a lot more right on Friday. That should give them more hope than just, "maybe we can steal four games like Game 1" would.
Below are war-on-ice's even strength data (about 48 minutes of the game), with goals, shots, missed/blocked shots, Corsi, scoring chances, high-quality scoring chancs, etc:
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I'd agree with the thoughts coming from Jack Capuano, Nick Leddy and Ryan Pulock:
Capuano on the game overall:
Tonight we played Islander hockey. We exited the zone quickly and had good D-zone coverage. We had a few break downs but when we did, Thomas (Greiss) made some big saves. It was good execution from our guys to pump 40 shots. Probably got 20 good ones out of it but Luongo made some good saves.'
And on getting better chances from their 40 shots:
I thought we could have done a better job getting in front of [Roberto Luongo] on a few occasions but he made some big saves. He made a big save on (Ryan) Strome but we also passed up on some opportunities in the second period. We had chances to shoot but we tried to make the sexy play and it didn't work.
Nick Leddy on breakouts.
On the game: I thought we played well tonight. Obviously, we didn't come out on top but that's the way we need to play game in and game out. … I thought we played good all game. We moved our feet and that's the way we need to play. We will look to do that again in Game 3.
What went well? Leddy:
I thought we had good breakouts. Our entries were clean as well. We got puck in deep and got on their defense.
Ryan Pulock on the game overall:
I thought we did some things better today. We created more zone time and we were able to get in on the forecheck. That's a big part of wearing them down going forward. It just wasn't the outcome we wanted.
I'm fine with all of this.
3. The Top Line Has Had Two Good Games
The Panthers top six was terrifying in Game 1, less so in Game 2. Yes, damn Reilly Smith did his thing again. But even with Gerard Gallant pretending not to be a line matcher, we saw lots of top-vs.-top and 4th vs. 4th, etc. The John Tavares line performed well in those clashes, aided by Tavares being in near-beast mode and having an intelligent and skilled player like Frans Nielsen on his wing.
The Panthers clearly want their 4th line to have no part of the Isles 1st line, and would prefer they just distract, cajole, and draw penalties from the Isles 4th line. Maybe that can be exploited when the Isles have home ice.
4. Ye Gods that Second Line. Look Away.
Nikolay Kulemin, Josh Bailey and Brock Nelson. I can't even...
I don't even know what to call that line, certainly not "second-best" line, maybe "WTF are you doing?!" line. Or the "This is what happens when you create a void by moving Frans to wing" line.
Their issues were discussed in the game recap, but so much weirdness there:
- It's weird that this trio has NO apparent chemistry despite being individually known for smart two-way play.
- It's weird that the line with ex-Sens 4th-liner Shane Prince and recent Sound Tiger Alan Quine (and talented but prodigal Ryan Strome) is the revelation so far, but now has to essentially step up and be the second line.
- It's weird that Nelson's shot has been a (happy) revelation this year, but his overall play has taken a hit. He can't carry two guys doing what Kulemin and Bailey are (not) doing.
- It's weird that Kulemin has been so ineffective outside the penalty kill this year. When they signed those four-year deals for Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski, you knew that it was a splurge for near-term depth with a back-end cost, but I didn't expect them to feel it in year two, with Grabovski felled by concussion issues and Kulemin declining because...age?...loss of his buddy?...complacency?
Regardless, the coaching staff saw it and they mixed it up a bit by swapping Nelson and Quine. It's a start. (To be fair, Jack Capuano also included the defense as responsible on the two goals the maligned second line gave up, and he's correct there. Calvin de Haan and Travis Hamonic could have done better on the second and first goal, respectively.
5. What's Next?
Game 3 Sunday at Barclays is nearly a sellout as of Friday night. The building should be crazy for its first playoff game. The Isles have an outstanding home record in Brooklyn, for whatever that's worth. They know the lively boards well, though they've seen good imitations on the boards at BB&T in the first two games. The ice could be an issue.
If Capuano didn't change things after Game 1, you wonder if he'd have any reason to after Game 2, other than win-loss superstition. Bailey and Kulemin would be the scratch candidates by demerits, but I doubt Capuano does that. With Grabovski and Anders Lee hurt, the replacement options (Steve Bernier, essentially) don't offer much. On defense, Pulock appears to have earned the coach's trust.
What other topics and lessons do you have after two games in Florida? What quibbles do you have with the above? Share and feed in comments. And try to have a relaxing weekend until Sunday night.