Florida Panthers vs. New York Islanders
Saturday, August 01, 2020 – 04:00 PM EDT at Scotiabank Arena
If there was one team that was coming into this post-season with an idea of playing in an empty arena, it is the Florida Panthers. However even a rink filled to 40% capacity still has a lot more buzz than a literal empty one. Yet it certainly won't be a rowdy Nassau Coliseum either.
The Islanders ended the season as the coldest team in the league losing seven straight, though four in overtime. They were not playing 'bad', even posting 40+ shots in three of those one goal losses. The Panthers, to a lesser extent, also started dropping a lot of games when February started losing 13 of their final 20 games. These teams had contrasting results against the respective conferences. Florida ran hot this year against the Central division, while New York found their most success against the Atlantic. This included a 3-0 season sweep against the Panthers all in low-scoring fashion and all in the first third of the season.
New York entered last year's playoffs as likely the most unexpected team to do so in the entire league. Barry Trotz, fresh off his first-ever Stanley Cup ring with the Capitals, led this team back to the promised land. It ended for the Isles in the second round losing 4-0 to the Canes after an impressive seep of their own against the Pittsburgh Penguins in round one. The season ended with Trotz being awarded his second Jack Adams in four years as coach of the year. On that note, the other bench will also hold a Jack Adams winner in Joel Quenneville who won it back in 2000. There are four other coach of the year winners standing on the bench in this post-season; Tortorella (Columbus), Vigneault (Flyers), Tippett (Oilers), Julien (Canadiens). Tippett and Vigneault are the only two who have not lifted a Cup as their team's head coach.
At the trade deadline the Panthers dealt long time offensive threat, Vincent Trocheck, to the Hurricanes in exchange for four players. Two of those, Haula and Wallmark could have some immediate positive impact in this post-season, though neither will replace the offensive output of Trocheck. On the Islanders' side, they acquired an electric player at the deadline from Ottawa, Jean-Gabriel Pageau. The Senators are very much in that 'rebuild' I guess they're calling it, and Pageau was just the latest valuable asset they let go for conditional picks. He scored twice in his first seven games, but also ended -6 to end the shortened season. However he does add another threat to a team built primarily on its defensive performance.
Neither team excelled offensively this year as a whole, however this is still the Panthers edge. They had five of their top six forwards finish with 20+ goals. The Islanders had two in Brock Nelson and Anders Lee. Barzal is the star of this team and the type of player who can be the game-breaker in the future. His numbers are very impressive considering his young age, but he is not in that class of player of the true elite. Part of that undoubtedly has to do with the structure the Islanders coaches have implemented from top to bottom.
The one sometimes critical piece the Islanders roster holds over Florida is experience in the playoffs. They haven't had much more success in the playoffs, however about two-thirds of their starters are returning from either their first round win against Florida in 2016, or last year's upset over the Pens.
There really is not a lot to say here. If the Panthers are allowed too much room, their snipers are going to light up the Isles. New York just doesn't have the same ability, but are facing a sloppier backend. So a potent counter-attack and simply being more efficient is not an unreliable way to win games. We saw the Blues lift a Cup this way a season ago afterall.
In almost every key defensive team statistic, the Islanders have the Panthers beat. The more they opened up their game to generate offense however the less success they had. It should be noted that the Isles did not match their exceptional standout defensive numbers of a year ago. Gone is Lehner, replaced by Varlamov. The duo of the Varlamov and Greiss still posted above average numbers, but not to the extent expected of a team struggling to score.
On the other end of the ice is a goalie once considered to be part of the elite. Sergei Bobrovsky, a former Vezina winner twice over, posted his worst career numbers this season but a HUGE amount. Well, small in numbers, big in hockey statistics. For the first time since leaving Philly for Columbus, he allowed over three goals a game at 3.23. He only had one shutout this year and less than half of his games were quality starts. He allowed three goals or more in 30 starts, four goals or more in 20 starts. Bob had a save percentage below 90% in 40% of his games. A goalie of his caliber does not just become terrible like this during one off-season. It is clear that what happened on the defensive end in Florida this year was not comparable to what Torts had in place in Columbus.
Wrap It Up
I see this series actually as being comparable to the first half meetings between these two. The Islanders NHL pick value lies in them being more responsible on the backend, having the playoff experience in their forward and defense core, having the sound defensive system that their players know can work, and the ability to be efficient on the attacking side.
The matchup on paper is very close despite the flashy forwards and some big name players Barkov, Ekblad, and Bobrovsky who have oodles of talent. However Quenneville's presence as a three-time Cup winning coach has not been felt to the same extent to Trotz. The fact such a potentially powerful roster was so damn ugly for huge swaths of the season speaks to inconsistency in the leadership.
I rarely, if ever, talk about the mental state of teams and players because it is so difficult to account for. However, if there was an ability to measure 'focus', I would give that metric the greatest edge between these two teams. Focus could possibly be measured in defensive stats line by line, or towards whatever the strategy of the team is perceived to be. Anyway it didn't factor into pricing here. For the Series bet we're going New York Islanders at -120 with Bookmaker (visit our Bookmaker Review). It's hard to let slip the fact that Trotz in back-to-back seasons has done quite a lot with very little once more and has them marginally undervalued with these NHL odds.