Nightghost walks us through everything we need to watch for in the Florida Panthers vs. New York Islanders play-in series!
This series will be a rematch of the playoff series from 2015-16 where John Tavares ended the season for the Panthers with his overtime goal in Game 6 at the Barclays Center. It was the first playoff series win for the Islanders since 1993. A lot has changed since that time. John Tavares bolted for Toronto in the 2018 offseason leaving them without their Captain and star player. This left the expectations in the hands of Anders Lee and Matt Barzal to take the reigns. After signing Robin Lehner to a one year deal that offseason, Lou Lamoriello as their Gm, and Barry Trotz as their head coach to replace Doug Weight, the Islanders went from a 7th round division finish to finishing second in the Metro that year, one point behind the division lead. This led them to a first round matchup with the Pittsburgh Penguins where the Islanders swept them in four games. As I touched in my preseason breakdown of the Islanders which is still up on the Elite Sports Betting website, I did not believe this would be a year where the Islanders would be able to replicate their success from last year. We won’t know exactly where the Islanders would have ended up had the full season played out but they are a far cry from where they were a year ago. I said it last year at the trade deadline that if the Islanders didn’t make a move for a top 6 scorer there would be no chance for them to get any further than the second and that prediction came true when the Islanders were then swept by the Rod Brind’amour led Carolina Hurricanes. This year at the deadline the Islanders were active and went out and traded a first, second, and third round pick for J.P Pageau from Ottawa. Now whether it’s the trade that hasn’t worked out, or the Islanders are back down to Earth where I originally expected them to be this season, they ended the break on a seven game losing streak since the trade deadline. In those 7 games they’ve scored a total of 16 goals. 6 of those 7 games were all against the new proposed playoff format teams. This break could be what the Islanders need to reset but heading into a 5 game series against the Panthers could prove to be a tough luck of the draw. If this was a 3 game series with the Islanders having home ice I would guarantee this as an Islanders win but I believe this Florida team to be too offensively powered to be able say that confidently in a 5 game series.
Let’s take a look at some of the numbers: Florida comes in top 6 in the league in 5 on 5 shooting percentage while the Islanders are in the bottom 8. The gap between these two offensively and defensively is dramatic enough to be polar opposites. Florida is top 6 in the league again in goals for with 228 compared to the Islanders being bottom 3rd with 189. Last year we bet on the Colorado Av’s as an 8 seed to knock off the 1 seeded Calgary Flames because of Semyon Varlamov. I don’t think we can rely on that here with the offensive presence the Panthers bring. The Islanders lack of scoring however, should help the defensive struggles Florida and Sergei Bobrovsky have run into all season. They currently sit first in the league during the regular season with 228 goals against. The Islanders are a top 5 team defensively in goals against. Here’s a problem for the Islanders if the trend continues over from the regular season. The Islanders are dead last in the league by a considerable margin in terms of power play opportunities. The Islanders received a total of 168 total power play opportunities this regular season. That’s dead last in the league, 16 opportunities behind the next closest team in the Ducks, and 43 opportunities less than the Panthers. They’re right in the middle of the pack in terms of penalty kill percentage like Florida but if this trend continues into their matchup with Florida, who are 10th in power play goal percentage scoring 21% of the time, the Islanders will be playing from behind early and often. Florida averages a PPG in one out of every 5 opportunities while the islanders average almost 9 minutes of penalty kill per game. Florida is top 4 in playoff teams in terms of staying out of the box only averaging 7.2 PIM per game. When you combine a team who gives up as little penalty minutes per game that Florida does, combined with the lack of power play time the Islanders have received this year, the Islanders can find themselves struggling and playing catch up to Florida because of special teams.
Florida is a team that is going to pepper you and pressure you on shots all game. They’re 8th amongst the playoff teams in total shots on the season averaging 32.18 SPG compared to the Islanders, who are a more quality type of shot team that rank second to last in total shots taken on the season. What do these shot numbers translate to? Florida is scoring on 10.1% of their shots taken compared to the Islanders 9.4%.
This matchup is going to come down to goaltending. The Islanders enter the playoffs with only two 20 goal scorers on the year (Brock Nelson and Anders Lee) while they only have two skaters with more than 50 points on the year (Brock Nelson again and Matt Barzal) and have been offensively anemic. Extending past their 7 game losing streak the Islanders were averaging 2 goals per game over their last 13. 38 goals in 14 games averaging 2.7 goals per game in that same span. Sergei Bobrovsky comes into the playoffs owning a 3.23 GAA and a .900 save percentage which is a far cry from where I expected him to be this season. I had placed a wager on him to win the Vezina trophy but that won’t happen. Semyon Varlamov comes in with a 2.62 GAA average and a .914 save %. We could and should see a different Bobrovsky in the playoffs however. Last year when he was with Columbus, he went into a first round matchup against the record setting Tampa Bay Lightning and pulled off one of the biggest upsets in NHL history with a four game sweep of the Lightning.. Which we had. Everyone thought I was crazy picking Columbus game 1 and telling people not to keep hammering the lightning live when they went up 3-0. Bob averaged 2 goals per game against the top team in the NHL. They then went on to take a 2-1 series lead over Boston before losing 3 in a row to the eventual Eastern Conference Champs where he averaged just under 3 goals per game in that series.
The Islanders however are not the Bruins of last year and definitely not the Bruins of this year, and with the lack of scoring the Islanders have produced before this outbreak, Bob should be in a good position to take this first round series. We have futures on both teams so no matter who wins here well have money riding on either team still. Florida comes in with five 20 goals scorers and Brett Connolly finishing with 19. The top 8 for this team offensively and the way their defensemen produce offensively should cause the Islanders to find themselves scrambling on both ends of the ice. Florida has too much star power for the Islanders to be able to keep up with and keep pace with in a 5 game series. What makes me say this now though considering the Islanders have won all three games against Florida this season?
The Panthers first meeting against the Islanders was back when the season opened up. Game one was on October 12th where the Islanders won 1-0 in a shootout to give them a 3-2 win on the game. They played again almost a month later where the Islanders held them to a 2-1 win. Again 1 month later the Islanders had a 2-1 lead before Anders Lee buried an empty netter giving the Islanders a 3-1 win. The Islanders haven’t seen Florida since December and this should play into Florida’s favor.
I am curious to see where the over unders open up in this series. This may be the one series in the East where we see the totals at 5.5 or 5. If we’re able to get an over under of 6 we will be making plays on the Under as well. In the last 11 meetings between these two that took place as an Islanders home game, 9 of them have stayed under 5 goals. The Islanders also have tendencies to blow third period leads against Florida when at home as well. With games being played in hub cities now we may have to pass on this play, or wait and see how game 1 goes. As much as I am an Islanders fan, and would love to see them advance and play Washington if Washington holds onto that spot, I don’t think the Islanders will be able to contain Florida in a 5 game series. Florida wants vengeance for their playoff loss a few years again and this Florida team was one of my sleeper teams coming into this season. It will be an exciting series so if the NHL is able to come back, and this format and matchup is set, my series pick is on Florida.