Well, NHL hockey is officially back, and the New York Islanders played a strong game to take a one game lead in their Stanley Cup qualifiers series against the Florida Panthers. That success was all while down a defenseman for the majority of the game, after Johnny Boychuk left due to concussion protocol after getting checked up high by Mike Matheson. Despite some makeshift defensive pairs to spread out the ice time, the Islanders played the kind of style that brought them success early on in the regular season and will hopefully bring them success going forward. Jean-Gabriel Pageau scored the opening goal, and Anthony Beauvillier gave the Islanders’ power play some life with a one-timer goal that would stand as the game winner after Jonathan Huberdeau got one back for the Panthers early in the third.
There were two penalties early, as Mathew Barzal took an interference call that was a little weak, and Frank Vatrano tripped Johnny Boychuk, pushing him hard into the boards. The Islanders got some 4 on 3 time after Mike Hoffman pulled off Adam Pelech’s helmet when they were tangled up, which goes down as a roughing penalty in the rulebook now (makes sense when players have to rush to the bench immediately after losing their helmet.)
That 4 on 3 was lacking, as was the power play that followed. Evgenii Dadonov interfered with Cal Clutterbuck, giving the Isles another power play, but again, the Islanders couldn’t convert on the man advantage.
JG Pageau opened the scoring 12 minutes into the first. Tom Kuhnhackl’s strong forechecking led to Derick Brassard picking up the puck and passing it to Pageau who was rushing to the net.
The Panthers nearly tied the game when Semyon Varlamov turned the puck over behind the net, but Dadonov couldn’t score. Adam Pelech took a boarding penalty that the Islanders killed, and Devon Toews broke up a rush late in the period with a good defensive play.
A little over two minutes into the second frame, Mike Matheson hit Johnny Boychuk up high, and initially got called for a major penalty for a headshot. The referees reviewed the play and changed that to a two minute minor for an illegal check to the head, but Boychuk left the game to undergo concussion protocol and did not return. On the power play, Anthony Beauvillier scored on a one timer from a good pass from Devon Toews. Beauvillier has looked good with a goal in the exhibition game against the Rangers, too, and Toews has been sharp on both ends of the ice.
Florida was able to get a lot of pressure and looked their most dangerous after Ryan Pulock had to leave the ice after getting hit by a shot. He was fine for his next shift, but it turned into a chain reaction that the Islanders were fortunate to get out of without letting up a goal. Beauvillier and Nelson nearly gave the Islanders a three goal lead when they got a 2 on 1 opportunity late in the second, but Nelson’s goal was saved by Bobrovsky, who was great all game.
The Panthers got within one goal 20 seconds into the third when a defensive breakdown led to Jonathan Huberdeau scoring. Despite the Panthers pushing to tie the game, the Islanders were strong and largely dictated play, with Pageau and Nelson both having good opportunities to score. The Islanders especially were able to shut down the Panthers in the last few minutes of the game, making it difficult for the Panthers to get any kind of sustained pressure and shutting them down on the 6 on 4 with the empty net. Getting the first game out of the way with a win is huge for the Islanders, and the way they won the game should lead to some optimism going forward.
- This team really missed Adam Pelech, whose presence just steadies the blue line so much. Pelech is a player that Trotz relies on to match up against top opposition, and his play has largely reflected that trust.
- Trotz should probably dress seven defensemen next game. The Isles need defensive structure more than anything else to succeed, and there are a few forwards who didn’t make enough of an impact that double shifting another player wouldn’t be able to overcome.
- If Boychuk isn’t ready for Game 2, I’m not sure if Trotz will go with experience in Andy Greene or maintain having right-handed defensemen on the right side by putting in Noah Dobson. Dressing 7D would get rid of this issue, which is another reason to do it, but Dobson looked strong in the exhibition game against the Rangers and his skating ability is valuable to break up pressure.
Next, Game 2 against the Panthers, Tuesday at 12PM ET in the bubble. LFG.