For any player participating in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the new season provides a second chance not only to write the wrongs of the regular season but also show the type of metal they possess. The Islanders know all to well about this.
In their 2019 first round sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins — the team they will also be up against in the first round of these playoffs starting Sunday — they witnessed Jordan Eberle have a phenomenal showing (six points in four games) after a so-so performance over the 82-game slate. Eberle did get hot towards the end of the year and it translated into the postseason, which changed the course of the series and gave the Islanders’ a significant advantage. Last year in the bubble it was Anthony Beauvillier, who was a bolt of lightning in the qualifying matchup against Florida and the first round beating of the Washington Capitals.
This opening round against an elite opponent has the chance to give a couple of Islanders a fresh start. Three of them elevating their game could help make the difference in them moving on or possibly going home.
We’ll start with Kyle Palmieri.
It’s not a secret that Palmieri’s stint with the Islanders has been disappointing since being acquired back at the trade deadline from New Jersey. He recorded just four points in 17 games and head coach Barry Trotz had a difficult time finding the right spot for him. He was even given a shot to play with Mathew Barzal in the second to last home game, and even that led to no results. Trotz has given Palmieri ample opportunities to try and get going, but now there is no more time for waiting.
— Rob Taub (@RTaub_) May 9, 2021
It would be a surprise if Trotz decided to sit Palmieri if he struggles — usually he gives veterans the benefit of the doubt — but you never know what he’s thinking.
Over the last few games the 30-year-old did look a little more motivated, so maybe this is a sign of things to come. The Isles’ offense would gain a real boost if Palmieri’s goal scoring touch returned. He would also really help the team’s ability to roll their four lines and the power play which will oddly enough have the advantage going into the series.
If Palmieri is crucial offensively to the Isles having a strong series, Scott Mayfield is the one on the backend.
Mayfield didn’t have the best time in the truncated 56-game sprint. A lot of it came as a result of having to adjust to a new D-partner in Nick Leddy. Mayfield’s regular partner for over a year and a half, Devon Toews, was traded to the Avalanche in the offseason. Leddy’s solid play and numbers masked a lot of Mayfield’s declining play in his own zone.
The Isles can ill-afford to have the 28-year-old make the same mistakes especially against the speed and skill the Penguins are equipped with up front. Mayfield gets caught flat-footed a lot and sometimes goes backwards instead of going north which in the regular season led to turnovers on far too many occasions.
That was the bad. Here’s the good: Mayfield is one of the best penalty killers in the game, as Trotz referenced too last month. The Penguins own one of the top man-advantages this year. Mayfield will have his hands full with that facet, but as he’s shown over time, that’s where he’s most valuable and shines the most.
Now for the third player, and this one is a bit of a wild card: Leo Komarov.
Surprised? Don’t be. Because for as much as Komarov is loathed by a portion of the fanbase — he’s been on Barzal’s wing over the past few weeks — he will be important in trying to get the Penguins off their game.
Uncle Leo is a pest and he does his job very well. He knows how to get under the opposition’s skin. And that definitely plays a factor in the mental grind of a series opposed to the other areas which the Islanders might be lacking.
I know Leo isn’t a fantasy hockey favorite, but we’re not playing fantasy hockey,” Trotz has said about Komarov. “We’re playing with real lives bullets in the NHL. It’s nothing about analytics. It’s about heart and guts and playing the right way, being committed, and playing in these heavy games.”
So, don’t expect Komarov to be producing points — although he did when inserted into games in last year’s postseason — but expect him to do the dirty work and try and make Sidney Crosby and Co.’s life miserable.