Everything Else

vs.

SCHEDULE

Game 1 in Brooklyn – Tonight, 6pm

Game 2 in Brooklyn – Sunday, 2pm

Game 3 in Raleigh – Wednesday, 6pm

Game 4 in Raleigh – Friday, 6pm

Well this wasn’t the matchup you saw coming. For the first time since 2015, the Metro Division Final won’t be contested by the Penguins and Capitals. And since the NHL went to this format in 2014, this is the first time that neither the Caps or Penguins will appear. Which is really quite something when you think about it. For comparison’s sake, EVERY team in the Central has appeared in the second round since this format came into being (technically the Avs are in the Pacific and never the Central but let’s just go with it). So the national audience may not be familiar with these teams, but there’s a lot to get through here.

Goalies: This is a clear advantage for the Islanders, and when you have a big advantage in net in the playoffs, sometimes that’s enough. Mrazek was barely ok against the Caps, with a .899 SV%. And that’s with giving up only three goals in the three home games the Canes had. The Isles don’t come with near the firepower the Capitals do, which will help Mrazek, but you would be shocked if he wins this for Carolina. He’s most likely going to be just fine, and the margins in this one are going to be so tight that fine may or may not be enough. The Isles can’t get him moving like the Caps did, they don’t have the skill or the interest. So maybe that helps just enough?

Meanwhile, Robin Lehner was throwing a .956 at the Penguins, and really not having to work all that hard to do it. He only saw an absurd number of shots in Game 1, and that was an overtime game, and Trotz teams keep him protected. But he might not even need the protection, such is the form he’s in. The last three game saw him give up three goals on 92 shots. That’s a .968. So even if the Canes might actually be better equipped to get through the Trotz minefield, getting past Lehner is going to take more than a smile.

Defense: While the Capitals might make fun of Dougie Hamilton, and he wasn’t particularly good against the Caps, the rest of the defense of the Canes was dominant. Justin Faulk and Jaccob Slavin carried a 58+% possession rate and just about the same in expected goals, and probably were the main reason the Canes are where they are. If you can believe it, de Haan and TVR on the third pairing were also very good. The depth here has always been the Canes strength. Also, if Dougie isn’t broken, they have three trap-busters in Hamilton, Faulk, and Pesce, though Pesce and Hamilton tend to play together. Rod Brind’Amour would be wise to get them all on separate pairings so they can always navigate the booby traps Trotz and the Isles set up, but with two pairings that should be 40-45 a night. It’s when TVR thinks he’s Paul Coffey that they’ll run into problems. If you were to design a defense to deal with a Trotz team, this is it.

You would be hard-pressed to pick the Isles defense out of a police lineup, but they’re well sheltered by they system and forwards. If the Canes can somehow open this up more than the Pens did, they Isles are in trouble. Nick Leddy has been iffy all season, and the Isles don’t have a proven puck-mover beyond that. But Trotz teams don’t get opened up on. They’re well-drilled and they do what they do, it’s just not terribly exciting.

Forwards: Of all the four second-round series, this one has by far the least amount of star power up front with either team. Sebastien Aho is wonderful, and so are Mathew Barzal and Josh Bailey, but they don’t move the needle much. And all of them might be the best second-line players in the league. The Islanders aren’t asked to do much other than work hard and be on the right side of the puck and find the goals when they present themselves. The Canes grunted through and got just enough goals throughout the lineup.

The Canes forwards will depend on their defense getting through the muck of the Isles in the neutral zone. If they do that, there’s probably just enough dash with Aho, Our Special Boy, Nino Neiderreiter, and Justin Williams (and if Svechnikov returns), and enough graft with Foegele, Staal, Martinook, and one or two others. But that’s a big if. You’d feel more confident of them busting through here with just a touch more life on the front end.

The Isles can match a top six, maybe even the whole corps. They just don’t do the same things. This is basically a push. If the Canes get as loose defensively as they were at times against the Caps, Bailey and Barzal and Co. aren’t as lethal but they can make them pay. And we know the Isles won’t be loose.

Prediction: This one’s hard to call. I feel like the Canes are built to deal with this, I just wonder if they can do so at the first time of asking and with this forward group. And the Isles will be no softer than the Caps were, and maybe even smarter about it instead of running around like kindergarten recess. It’s not going to be pretty. The Isles have the edge in net. Feels like this one goes the distance too, and I’ll decide to punish the Isles for playing this in Brooklyn instead of Nassau.

Canes in 7. 

Everything Else

Dan Saraceni is an editor at LightHouseHockey.com. You can follow him on Twitter @CultureOfLosing. 

We’ll start with something joyous: Mathew Barzal, the best player ever or the bestest player ever?

The best. Maybe bestest ever. Islanders haven’t had a player with this… whatever it is in a long time. Even as great as Tavares is, the speed and elusiveness of Barzal is like X-Men level. Of course, as expected, we’re now into the “stop turning the puck over” part of the program but he’s got the awareness and quickness to clean up his own messes a lot of the time. I’ll be sad if he doesn’t win the Calder but those things happen. I’m more excited about seeing what he can do in years two, three and beyond.

Anders Lee is on pace for 40 goals, after 34 last year. That would make him one of the more dangerous scorers in the league. is that what he is? Or a Tavares product? And was Lee who  Peter Chiarelli thought he was getting for Eberle and got confused?
Lee is Tim Kerr, that immobile net front beast that cleans up a lot of rebounds. He’s a little better than just that, but it’s “where his fish is fried,” as Doug Weight said. I wouldn’t say he’s a product of Tavares because he had 36 goals last year, many coming after Tavares was hurt and missed the end of the season. But what’s weird is that without Josh Bailey, that whole line hadn’t worked that well over the last few games. That might be because they had a rotating cast of nobodies on the other wing, but I think Bailey and Lee work as a tandem because of the set-up/net front dynamic. Tavares will be Tavares no matter who he’s with. I think Chiarelli thought he was getting all three Strome brothers for Eberle in a kinda weird Hockey Voltron deal or something.
The Isles are rocking three young d-men in Pelech, Mayfield, and Pulock. What’s the outlook for this trio?
The outlook is long because they’ve already signed Pelech and Mayfield to cheap, long term deals of four and five years respectively. They’re both similar: more defensive than offensive, not especially quick, prone to games of quiet competence and bouts of overt ineptitude, seem like nice guys. Pulock had high expectations given his AHL scoring numbers and big slap shot. His defense has gotten better this season but he’s been reluctant to let it rip for some reason earlier this season. He’s definitely got talent, it’s just a matter of putting it all together (and letting the coaches keep him in the lineup).
Are the Islanders gonna have to find a goalie before the deadline?
Honestly, at this point, I don’t think it’s as simple as that. This team has a lot of structural and fundamental issues that need to be addressed first. Neither goalie has had a good season. Greiss’s 50-something save performance in Montreal on Monday was his best game since October and he’s been sub-.900 the entire time. Halak was awful in November, but has shown more signs of life throughout the season. I was at the 4-1 loss to the Devils on Tuesday and it’s hard to say he was at fault for all but one goal. No goalie should have to face 40+ shots a night. Halak’s a UFA and they’ll need the savings to sign Tavares and (I hope) Bailey. Greiss will be back next year, and I hope back to the above average goalie he was when they signed him. They have some prospects playing overseas that they’re banking on, too. Typical Islanders: the answer is always tomorrow.
So how does this Tavares thing go? Barzal, new arena plans all show promise for the future. In the other hand, may miss the playoffs again.
I’ve been compiling Tavares free agency stories for almost two years now and I still have no idea. Before Monday, when he told a crowd of Montreal reporters that he wants to stay on Long Island and has never thought about playing anywhere else, he had been consistent in saying, “I like it here, I’m focused on winning and when the time is right, I’ll weigh all the information.” (which reminds me, I need to add that stuff.) Most insiders agree he’ll stay. I think that he thinks they can still be a winner, especially with Barzal now in the picture. Belmont was huge. The new owners have to know that without him, even less people will want to watch them. They have money coming off the books, which was smart. But I’ve seen them screw up so many lay-ups, it’s hard to think they won’t do it again.

 

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