Hockey is back on tap and in a big way, which means there’s a lot to cover in a relatively short period of time. It’s time to get on with the show and preview the Stanley Cup Playoffs Qualifying Round.
Up next, the New York Islanders and Florida Panthers.
The Islanders and head coach Barry Trotz have been preparing for this and that’s kind of a scary thought, as perhaps no other squad plays a team game as well as this one. The New York Islanders the Panthers will face aren’t quite the defensive inspiration the Pittsburgh Penguins were swept by last year, but that doesn’t mean they should be underestimated.
The Panthers, meanwhile, have five 20-goal scorers. But defence is an issue – and then some. Florida can fill the net with the likes of Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov, but it goes back to that weak D. The Panthers allowed 32.3 shots against per game and have the 20th penalty kill in the NHL.
Long Island, luckily, may be against the best possible opponent for such a substandard defensive outfit. The Islanders have a worse penalty kill and they’re not a great offensive team. In fact, they rank 24th overall in goal-scoring and won’t press the Panthers too much. They’ll have to rely on smothering the opposition to snag the series.
It’s all about structure. Everybody knows that. If the Islanders can become the sort of team that bounces back and regains their defensive footing after a few lapses in the so-called regular season, they stand a chance at restricting the offence of the Panthers and getting a few goals of their own. But they won’t overpower Florida.
The trouble for Florida will be goaltending. Sergei Bobrovsky will have to earn his money. He was having one of the worst seasons of his career before the COVID-19 pause. Florida’s defence was far from reassuring, but Bobrovsky’s 3.23 goals against average was not doing them any favours either. His $10 million a year will start to look like quite the price tag if he can’t steal a series or two.
What we have here is a match-up based on vulnerabilities and the ability of a team to come together and overcome. The Islanders can press their defensive advantage against a Panthers squad that will score, while the Panthers can rest a little easier knowing their lackluster defence won’t face its most stringent test this round.
Image: Getty/Michael Reaves