I was surprised to get home from Game 2 and read about how badly the Islanders outplayed the Hurricanes, how unlucky they were, how they hit two crossbars, how Carolina stole this game with a couple of lucky breaks in a 48-second span to start the third period.
The Islanders were sloppy as hell on Sunday afternoon. They may have outplayed Carolina but they certainly didn’t play their best. I don’t think they played anywhere near their best, frankly.
I say that with the full understanding that Carolina deserves some credit for the Isles’ sub-optimal performance. They forced the Islanders to rush their decisions with their layered forecheck, which aims to take away a puck-carrier’s space as well as his first option. But the Isles made plenty of uncharacteristic, unforced errors entirely of their own doing.
The first period in particular was filled with failed retrievals, failed breakouts and turnovers out the ass. Take a look at some of this sluggish buffoonery:
To my eye, this was the team’s worst game of the playoffs with their defensive zone breakout.
The worst forward line was, by far, the Nelson-Bailey-Kuhnhackl line. They were in their own zone all game long and the numbers bear that out. When those three were on the ice, the Hurricanes attempted 16 shots and the Islanders attempted just two, per Natural Stat Trick. That’s an 11.1% shot-share, which is abysmal.
The worst defensive pairing was the normally-reliable Pulock-Pelech duo. Pulock in particular had a really bad day with the puck on his stick. The Hickey-Leddy pairing wasn’t much better. While that pairing had worse shot-share numbers than Pulock-Pelech did, that’s only because they shared the ice with the Nelson line most often.
Here’s one of the plays from the above video that exemplified just how bad some of these guys were. This is off a defensive zone faceoff that Brock Nelson wins cleanly. You’re not gonna execute a perfect breakout off a d-zone faceoff win every time, but you’d at least hope to have a good chance of doing so by having everyone run the set breakout play.
Bailey is supposed to go right to the weak-side half wall off this faceoff win to receive the puck that Leddy wheels around the boards. From there he can hit the turning-up-ice Nelson in stride or just clear it out up the wall if Nelson’s covered.
Instead, Bailey flies the zone right off the faceoff. It’s inexplicable. I guess he assumed Leddy’s hard-around would clear the zone and he’d have an offensive rush? I have no idea. That’s not what this team does off defensive zone faceoff wins. Seeing Bailey float around in the neutral zone on this play made me wonder which Josh I was watching.
Once Bailey casually waltzes his way back into the defensive zone, he doesn’t look particularly interested in playing the body or otherwise engaging in a way that would make life difficult for his man. He seemed to be taking shortcuts and avoiding physical confrontation all game long. It was maddening to watch.
The Islanders’ breakout had been much sharper prior to this game so hopefully it was just a one-off. It better have been. The entire season rests on tonight’s Game 3 and if the first two games are any indication, the Isles have a very small margin for error. They simply cannot afford to keep shooting themselves in the foot like they did in Game 2.
At least not if they hope to keep their season alive with a win.
So do better, damn it.