New York Islanders: Round 2 Matchup Breakdown

Ryan Pulock, New York Islanders

The New York Islanders will face off against the Philidelphia Flyers in round 2 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. This is an intriguing matchup for sure; both teams match up pretty evenly. The Flyers come into this series as the best team in the Eastern Conference. The Islanders come into this series as the underdog. Are the Flyers really the best team in the East? Are the Islanders really the underdogs in this series?

Forwards

During the regular season, the Flyers’ forward group was among one of the most dangerous in the league. Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Travis Konecny, and Kevin Hayes led this group of amazing forwards. Recently though, the Flyers’ top forwards have been slacking in production. Voracek leads the Flyers in points with 8. It’s not like they aren’t producing, they just aren’t living up to expectations.

The Islanders’ forward group is so very confusing. Josh Bailey leads the Isles in points with 10. 8 of those 10 points are assists; Bailey has quietly become one of the best passers left in the playoffs. Other forwards like Anthony Beauvillier, JG Pageau, and Brock Nelson continue to impress. Also, Mat Barzal has recently been picking his play up. I’d still give the advantage to the Flyers, though. The Isles forwards were a little too streaky during the season, but their playoff performances speak for themselves, though.

Defenseman

The Islanders would be the better defensive team even if it was Griffin Reinhart out there with Brian Strait. Barry Trotz makes the Isles the best defensive team. Especially with talented defenders like Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech, and Devon Toews, the Isles might have the best defensive scheme in all of Hockey. Ryan Pulock has a booming slapper, while Adam Pelech has amazing stick play. Devon Toews is a fast two-way defender, and Scott Mayfield is an enforcer who can kill the power-play. Andy Greene and Nick Leddy are the two oldies who can still hold their own offensively and defensively. Yes, I know the Flyers have Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbhere, but they don’t have Barry Trotz. Isles are better defensively.

Goalies

This is a really even matchup for the goalies. Semyon Varlamov has been nothing short of spectacular as of late. Varlamov currently has a 1.59 GAA and a .935 save percentage with one shutout. Carter Hart has really anchored this Philly team and shown them the power of a good goalie. Hart boasts a 1.71 GAA and .943 save percentage with two shutouts. This means Varlamov is letting in fewer goals, but Hart is making more saves. This is a tie for me; both goalies are really good. I guarantee that whoever loses this series won’t be blaming it on their goaltender.

Conclusion

This is a good and close series—two teams, who have similar talents, facing off in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. Neither team is hungrier than the other. May the best team win, and may the refs not be blind.

Devon Toews could be the most important player for the Islanders this round

New York Islanders, Devon Toews

Ever since he came into the NHL in December of 2018, the New York Islanders expected big things from Devon Toews.

The hype around Toews had built up for a long time, much of it due to how much the former regime — headed by Garth Snow — saw him as the organization’s next great d-man. And through almost two seasons now, Toews has lived up to the billing.

As the Isles begin their first-round series against the Washington Capitals today, a lot of eyes will be focused squarely on the 26-year-old. Reason being he’s got all the intangibles that very much can make him the so-called x-factor for the Islanders.

This series though really plays right into Toews’ wheelhouse.

Toews style and skating ability are similar to what to expect from a very potent Capitals’ squad. Toews proficient backcheck and skill at joining the rush on offense is another dangerous proponent which could give the Caps defensemen fits. He being the QB on the power play, Toews’ quick puck movement could draw trouble for a Caps penalty kill, that despite being good in the regular season, can still be exposed.

Plus. while Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech will have their hands full with the Capitals’ top line, it will be Toews job to neutralize the rest of Washington’s prolific forwards.

To add to expecting another huge series from Toews — we witnessed last year’s postseason and in the qualifying round too just how much Toews plays into the Isles success.

Last spring, Toews suited up in all eight games in the playoffs for the Isles. He had a quiet, but very effective first series against Pittsburgh, which his team swept in four. But it was the next series where Toews made himself a household name. Despite the Islanders being swept by the Hurricanes, Toews was the team’s best all-around player in the series. He ended the playoffs with a goal and four assists.

That clutch nature was on display again against Florida last week. The argument can be made that Toews was the Islanders’ best d-man in the series. He tied with Ryan Pulock for most points by a d-man with four, and his contributions at even strength, on special teams and on the backend in helping shut down the Panthers’ lethal forwards, were crucial to the club taking care of business in just four games.

I wrote yesterday about Anders Lee needing time take his game to another level in this series. Well in regards to Toews, doing what he does best and the simple nature of his game could be critical the Islanders this series.

Toews could be a real game-changer as long as he doesn’t mock Evgeny Kuznetsov’s “bird celly”. We all remember what happened afterward from that stunt.

All joking aside, he is capable of being the Islanders’ most important player.

 

 

The time has arrived for Anders Lee to step up for the Islanders in the postseason

New York Islanders, Anders Lee

When the New York Islanders named Anders Lee captain before the beginning of last season, they did it for a reason.

Lee was a leader. He had a presence about him, and his teammates respected him.

He was also bestowed the “C” for another reason — he’s one of the organization’s most important players.

But something has eluded Lee, and it even goes back further to before he was handed the captaincy.

It’s that next level playoff performance.

The Islanders and their fans have been waiting for Lee to have that bust out moment in the postseason for a long time now.

Back 2015, when the Isles faced the Washington Capitals in the first round of the playoffs, Lee was scratched for games six and seven of the series. Head coach Jack Capuano had benched him in place for 12th forward and veteran, Colin McDonald.

The Islanders went on to lose that do-or-die seventh game against the Caps and recording just 11 shots on goal for the entire game. 

The following year, Lee went down with a leg injury just a few games before the playoffs began. The setback forced him to miss the postseason, and the organization’s first playoff series win in 23 years.

And even last spring, he went ice cold against the Carolina Hurricanes after having three points in four games in the Isles’ sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the opening round.

His start to this postseason hasn’t been much to write home about either — pointless in four games despite ten shots on goal.

All of those previous experiences, and his play so far in the tournament, make it even more crucial that he finally delivers for against the Capitals this round.

The second and third lines did most of the damage against Florida. Even more so, the Isles offense was very good in general with his linemates — Jordan Eberle and Mathew Barzal — finding their groove again.

The latter makes things even more critical for why receiving a huge series from Lee could go a long way in helping the Isles move on to the next round.

Take, for example, what’s on the other side: Alex Ovechkin.

It’s not even up for discussion how much the Caps are going to lean on him the entire series and in the biggest moments.

Well, the Isles are going to need to do the same with Lee, but even more.

And we’ve seen in the past Lee is up for that challenge. This time, he needs to do it again while taking it to another degree.

What that means is he is better than Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov, Ilya Kovalchuk, and T.J. Oshie, for that matter. What that means is he is that bull in front of the opposing team’s cage and making goalie’s lives a nightmare. He earned that reputation around the league, even if it wasn’t the same this year as from years past. And what that means is he playing up to level a team’s captain needs to be at when it comes to the postseason.

That doesn’t have to be scoring a million points. But it does involve being the player who is the one who creates those big moments or is in the mix somehow.

The Islanders will need certain things to break their way if they want to be one of the Elite 8 a few weeks from now.

One of them is Lee stepping his game up to a level we haven’t seen from him yet in his career. He’s had chances in the past and been unsuccessful. Now comes another one starting tomorrow where he can elevate his status.

It’s Anders Lee’s time, and it’s now where he needs to arrive.