The New York Islanders’ 3-1 series win over the Florida Panthers in the qualifying round was not unexpected, but there were some surprises and revelations that hopefully bode well as they prepare to face the Washington Capitals in the conference quarterfinals.
1. Beauvillier’s a Beauty.
Anthony Beauvillier was flying all over the ice in this series. The 22-year-old has steadily improved in his first four seasons and this, right now, is the best hockey he’s played in his NHL career.
He was fast, he was fearless, he was having fun. I was having fun watching him have fun. He even has the words “HAVE FUN” written on his hockey stick, which is just about the corniest thing I’ve ever seen in my life, but I love it.
Beauvillier had five points against Florida (three goals and two assists) and generated a ton of scoring chances. Apart from the offense, what really stood out was his relentless effort on the forecheck, forcing a bunch of turnovers with his speed and tenacity.
2. Pageau a Perfect Fit.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau is an intelligent and skilled two-way center. He’d be a great fit for any hockey team. But on Barry Trotz’s Islanders, he’s absolutely perfect.
He’s a player who puts defense first. We’ve seen the offense he can bring (three goals in the series), but the predominant quality of his game is his defensive play. He’s responsible and doesn’t take needless risks. That’s like music to this coach’s ears.
Apart from that, Pageau has that attention to detail Trotz is always preaching about. He’s the rare player where you can find one or two little things he does on every single shift that make you appreciate his game. (In this way he reminds me of a lite version of Patrice Bergeron.)
It’s the way he positions his body, receives a pass or wins a faceoff. The way he dumps the puck in and retrieves it himself. The way he scares the hell out of Brian Boyle. The way he wins ping pong tournaments. How he plays the power play and the penalty kill. This guy does it all. Here, have a look:
Though Pageau has only played 11 games for the Islanders, it’s become clear that this is a match made in heaven. What a fantastic move by Lou Lamoriello.
3. Down the Middle.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of having four quality centers in the lineup. This is our first time seeing all four of Barzal, Nelson, Pageau and Cizikas suit up. So far, so good.
4. The best defense is a good defense.
The Islanders allowed seven goals in the four-game series. Four of Florida’s seven goals came on the power play, and another came while Beauvillier had just come out of the box.
So effectively, that’s just two 5v5 goals allowed in four games. That’s ridiculous.
Unsurprisingly, one of the contributing factors to this stout defensive play was good defense from the defensemen. Here’s some of that good defense:
4. Third Man High.
Defensemen playing good defense is great and all, but it’s what the forwards do that gives the Islanders their defensive identity. Without the puck and on the forecheck, they’re still trapping to stifle the opponent’s attack in the neutral zone.
But when the Islanders have the puck in the offensive zone, it’s that “third man high” Butchie’s always talking about that enables them to be in good defensive position once they lose the puck.
When the Isles are at their best, while cycling in the offensive zone, the forwards will seamlessly rotate as the third man high in the offensive zone. That forward will read the play down low and either jump in to further the offense or get back on defense. Here’s some examples from the qualifying round:
5. Say “Uncle!” Say it!!
There was a certain pleasantness to not having to see Leo Komarov in the lineup the first three games. It had a positive effect on my mood and stress levels. As a result, I cleaned my apartment, exercised and was generally living my best life. I even contemplated the thought of doing laundry at some point in time. Things were really looking up for yours truly.
Then came Game 4.
When I saw he was in the lineup for Tom Kuhnhackl, full cage and all, I let out an audible gasp. “Uh oh,” I said to no one in particular. I just knew we’d be in store for a vintage Uncle Leo moment at some point in the game.
He did not disappoint.
With the Isles’ lead still just two in the opening minutes of the third period, Leo took a needless, spectacularly-boneheaded hooking penalty, handing Florida’s lethal power play an opportunity to cut the lead in half.
Thankfully, the Isles killed the penalty off.
6. Andy Makes You Dandy.
I absolutely loved this gorgeous lob pass by Andy Greene to Jordan Eberle in Game 3:
It sounds like Johnny Boychuk is healthy and ready to return, but it’s nice knowing the steady veteran is ready to step in if needed. We’ve come a long way since the days of Dennis Seidenberg seeing regular ice time. Do you remember those days? I sure do!
7. A Jonathan Amongst Jonathans.
Jonathan Huberdeau is just one of many really good Jonathans in the NHL. He’s a dangerous player and I always feel uneasy when he’s on the ice. Still, I was somewhat surprised to learn that the 27-year-old Huberdeau is already the Panthers all-time leading scorer.
Remember when he scored on a long-range snipe to give Florida a 1-0 lead back in Game 6 of the 2016 series? That looked for a while like it would hold up as the game-winner; Barclays was so quiet that night. At least up until Nikolay Kulemin and Kyle Okposo saved the day with two huge assists, leading the Isles to the second round for the first time in 23 years. Man, I miss those guys.
Question: which Islander will he try to decapitate first? Leave your picks in the comments below!
9. The Fix is in. After getting thoroughly spanked by the Hurricanes in the qualifiers, the New York Rangers won the NHL Draft Lottery on Monday night. They had a 12.5% chance of winning the top pick, which they will use to take expected-superstar winger Alexis Lafreniere.
Last year, the Rags had just a 15.3% chance at winning a top-two pick (in a draft with two expected franchise players). They won the no. 2 pick and selected Kaapo Kakko.
Now, it would be asinine for me to even suggest that the NHL has rigged the last two lotteries in the Rangers favor, so I won’t.
10. Hockey is Back.
I’ve been holed up by myself during the pandemic, and it’s been a tough few months. I was laid off from work and feel like there’s a cloud of uncertainty hovering over my future. I’m sure this applies for many of you.
So the return of NHL hockey has been a welcome distraction. It feels like there’s a game on virtually all day, every day. This must be why I heard Brendan Burke’s voice in a dream a few nights ago. I’m not even joking. Stay out of my head, Brendan.
In all seriousness, I hope you and your loved ones are healthy and staying safe during this difficult time. For at least a little while longer, we’ll get to enjoy some more Islanders hockey. Thanks for reading.
Till next time.