One of the talking points going into the Islanders’ series with the Penguins was how much physicality would play a factor. The Isles, as we know, are a heavy team. They have had to be to survive the past few seasons in an ultra-competitive Metro Division that features three of the heftiest teams in the league.
Through two postseason games so far, they’ve shown they are willing to throw the body at will. More so in the opening contest on Sunday did the Islanders really take it to the Pens, where they amassed 72 hits. Leo Komarov registered an astounding 14 of them. In the 2-1 loss on Tuesday, only 46 checks were recorded. That’s a considerable drop and maybe one of the reasons head coach Barry Trotz noted his team was “light in some areas”.
“We didn’t make it hard enough on them,” Trotz said after game two. “We’ve got to raise our level.”
The Isles’ bench boss loves to use the phrase “man’s game” when the physical nature of the game is ratcheted up. Now the Islanders, who got punched in the mouth in game two, have to get back to that part of their game and start throwing their weight around early. Knowing they are back on home ice and will be in front of 6,200 rabid fans — it will probably feel like it’s a packed house based on the noise and low ceiling — should provide some good motivation to make that happen.
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The last time the Islanders hosted Pittsburgh in the playoffs was two years ago, and that Penguins squad had no answer for how much the Islanders went after them. This series is a little different because Pittsburgh is built differently. They still have their speed and skill, but they have guys who can dish it out too — Mike Matheson (Islander fans know that name well), Brandon Tanev, Jared McCann. However, the Isles are no spring chickens either.
They’ve seen how much a toll it can take on teams when they keep getting the body taken to them. Just ask the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers from last summer, the two clubs the Islanders defeated on their way to the Eastern Conference Final.
The hitting is due to pick up again in this series with tonight’s game three being a possible turning point of the series after the teams split in Pittsburgh. Goals and better defense aside, The Islanders can put themselves in a better spot if they bring the physical element from the get-go. They need to bring the pain and bring it all evening long.
Tonight marks the first time in over two years the Islanders will host a playoff game at the Coliseum. They have had success in the postseason dating back to 2015 when the old barn was supposed to be shut down for good having gone 4-0-1 in their last five games.
That’s a good sign.
Oh, so is the fact they were 21-4-3 on home ice in the regular season.