Any team that heads into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, they know how crucial special teams can play a role in how far you can go. If you can have both on the same page, youâ€™re at a distinct advantage. Just look at the Tampa Bay Lightning from the bubble in the bubble last year. Unfortunately the Islanders were one of those teams that were tasked with dealing with not only the Bolts exceptional power play but also their stout penalty kill in the Eastern Conference finals.
The Isles lost to Tampa in six games with a lot of those defeats coming with the Lightning winning the special teams battle.Â If there was a lesson to be learned from that experience from the Islesâ€™ perspective, it is you need a good balance in those facets.
Problem is they still havenâ€™t grabbed hold of that.
With the playoffs starting next week, the Islandersâ€™ special teams are once again a mixed bag. The man-advantage is ranked 24th, converting at just 18%. Their PK â€” despite allowing a goal in Mondayâ€™s nightâ€™s loss in Buffalo, the first in over 25+ times shorthanded â€” has been tremendous since the end of March and launched them all the way up to sixth as of this morning, according to covers.com. The former is more of the main concern as game one approaches.
There has still yet to be a successful formula found by head coach Barry Trotz, which is questionable after the team looked like it solved that dilemma in the middle of the season. For a good two to three weeks span, the Islanders had a dangerous power play (a rarely used way to describe that unit) on the backs of they had a sniper and nÃ©e threat in Oliver Wahlstrom. But once again, that small sample size soon disappeared and the team went back to its old ways of trying to be to cute or being unable to get clear zone entries. The loss of Anders Lee didnâ€™t make things any easier. Itâ€™s clear his net front presence is severely missed. Even acquiring Kyle Palmieri â€” known as a power play specialist of sorts during his time with the Devils â€” hasnâ€™t translated to any consistency on the man advantage.
So whereâ€™s the fix? Honestly itâ€™s hard to pinpoint. Teams focused in on Wahlstrom once they saw he was the trigger man; itâ€™s clear thatâ€™s still the game plan. Do they try to make Palmieri the prime shooter? Maybe Anthony Beauvillier gets that call.
Somethingâ€™s gotta change in these last three games on the power play if the Isles are gonna be successful.
In regards to the penalty kill, going in hot could really become a huge advantage. The Islanders no matter who of their three possible opening round opponents â€” Pittsburgh, Washington, Boston â€” all are in the top-15 of the league on the man-advantage, so the challenge wonâ€™t be easy. The good thing is theyâ€™ve shown they donâ€™t get rattled even in that area. In their games against the Bruins and Caps last month, they killed double minors and five-minute majors with ease. The confidence Trotz has in those units is why he decided not to sit Scott Mayfield after a few so-so performances. Trotz acknowledged him as one of the best penalty killers in the league.
That is the truth. And itâ€™s only furthered at how excellent the team has been when tasked with being shorthanded for awhile now.
Most people love to focus on how playing at even strength is where the Islanders will thrive when the grind of the postseason begins. But itâ€™s there unbalanced special teams that will also have an adverse affect.
They have their good and have their bad. How it plays out in the games that mean more will be something to watch.