For the NY Islanders the game plan will be the same. The keys will be in the execution. They will need to stress these points. Here’s what I see.
1 Line Matchups
For the Islanders the matchups will be driven by zone start as they have all year. Casey Cizikas and Val Filppula will take the bulk of defensive zone faceoffs, and Brock Nelson and Mat Barzal will handle the offensive zone starts.
What will be a little different this series is that Rod Brind’Amour doesn’t key his lines on the zone starts. He will also shuffle lines. This will make it a little more difficult for Trotz, especially on the road if he wants to line match. I don’t see that happening. I think these are two teams that trust their line rotation. Brind’Amour will be more apt to shorten his bench though.
The only match up the Islanders should avoid is when Lee, Barzal and Eberle find themselves on the ice with Leddy and Hickey against the Sebastian Aho line. I trust the other three lines to shut Aho down, but this line will have to outscore them, and that will be quite a task. They should do well with the support of the other two defensive pairings.
I think the Islanders have more balance and if this becomes an on the fly game the fact that the blue and orange can roll four lines with impunity will serve them well. Expect the Casey Cizikas line to take advantage of mismatches and be more productive offensively than they did last series.
Petr Mrazek had a decent season (2.34 GAA/ .914 SAV%), but this was supported by Carolina’s shot suppression. Robin Lehner on the other hand had a season (2.13 GAA/.930 SAV%) somewhat driven by shot quality against. I see the same thing here.
With the exception of Aho and Teravainen the bulk of Carolina’s shots will come from their D (Hamilton and Faulk). The best goaltending will be from the Islanders D and the layer which protects tips and blocks out for rebound control. Missing Boychuk will hurt to some extent so look for the Islanders centers to be more active.
The Islanders have the better goaltender. But the battle will be for the high danger areas, and I think Islanders have the advantage in getting there with all four lines, and will be equally matched in protecting. The bulk of even strength goals may come with DeHaan or Hickey on the ice.
3 Special Teams
Carolina had an above average PK (81.6%) and below average PP (17.8%). The Islanders were PK (79.9%) and PP (14.5%) respectively. The key here is to stay out of the box. The Islanders were able to stifle a 25% PP against Pittsburgh, and I don’t don’t think quality will be an issue here unless quantity becomes a problem.
The Islanders will have to avoid obstruction penalties with solid neutral zone defense. The Hurricanes will have to avoid more aggressive penalties due to the frustration that is brought on by being hit every time you touch the puck.
Carolina has an advantage here with better overall special teams. The key is the Islanders neutralizing that advantage with discipline. They have also started to find more PP success. If that continues the Canes will find themselves in trouble early. If the Islanders power play disappears again it could be enough to turn the series around.
4 Neutralize The Defense
Carolina has one of the better defensive groups in the league. Not because they are solid defenders, but because they are adept puck movers. They are not easily intimidated. The Islanders will try to frustrate them in their defensive zone. The Canes are good at skating the puck away from trouble and passing accurately under pressure. Too much pressure will allow for some odd man rushes, and speed through the neutral zone.
The key here is for the Isles to play a LESS aggressive strategy and rely on neutral zone turnovers. They will not win a track meet with the Canes.
In the same vein, the Islanders forwards must help the defense move the puck out of their own zone. Carolina will aggressively forecheck and try to pressure the Islanders youngish D. This isn’t the same D that Carolina faced earlier in the season, but the Islanders will be facing a more cohesive unit as well.
The key here is for the Islanders to keep it boring. Turnover goals can be exciting, but not when they are happening to you. Station to station hockey and gap control will be how the Islanders have to play here. Eventually they can wear down the Carolina forecheck with Pulock, Leddy and Toews proving their worth in escaping their defensive zone.
Rob Brind’Amour has done an outstanding job in his rookie season. The Canes are motivated and have well outplayed their talent. Barry Trotz has given the Islanders a blueprint for success, and they’ve run with it. What’s left is a chess match.
The key here is preparation and adjustments. I don’t think either team will change much from their last series to this one. What I do think is that Trotz will be better at identifying weaknesses and translating that to gameplan. If both teams play to their strengths the Canes can win this series. Trotz won’t let that happen.
Watch the evolution of the Islanders break outs. If the Canes are neutralizing their defensive zone escapes look for Barry to start releasing forwards to get behind the Canes D. This will allow the Islanders to dump pucks from their own zone while avoiding icing. This might also affect some lineup changes mid-series to remove some of the less fleet of foot Islanders.
I expect a long and exciting series. The Canes can certainly bring it, but they are not a perfect team. It will come down to execution, and adjustments. I expect the secondary units to be the stars here. Look for a 3+ goal series from Casey Cizikas and Brock Nelson. One or both of these two players will steal the show from Jordan Eberle. If the Canes are successful it will be because they get goal production from Hamilton and Faulk. The Islanders must stop that from happening.
Islanders in six.