When the season was paused back in mid-March, the Islanders were one point out of a playoff spot and 2-4-4 in the last ten games played. Would they have made the playoffs had the regular season been played out to its conclusion?
I think they would have squeaked in, though they certainly weren’t trending in the right direction. The addition of Andy Greene (to replace Adam Pelech, whose injury really hurt) and J-G Pageau would’ve provided the needed depth, although Casey Cizikas’ injury was a wild card that also affected their lineup at the time.
Both Pelech and Cizikas are back and healthy now, so that bodes well. Greene might even end up as depth now, as will Thomas Hickey, who was roster-blocked into the AHL all season. Which brings us too...
How has the layoff helped the Islanders? Are they more playoff-ready now then they would have been had the postseason started in April?
Absolutely, the layoff helped, because of the aforementioned injuries to Pelech and Cizikas. They are quieter but essential contributors for the Islanders. Outsiders might not recognize their importance because they don’t have flashy numbers, but they are key safety valves that keep Barry Trotz’s overall approach functioning. Pelech’s absence had a domino effect on the blueline, and any time Cizikas is hurt it has the multiplier effect of making his linemates Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck far less effective.
Are they more playoff-ready? Impossible for me to guess other than on the injury front. But Pageau should be more integrated into the side now, too, giving them really strong center depth 1-4 and a weapon on both special teams.
How do you feel the Islanders match-up against the Panthers in this best of five series? What scares you the most about playing the Cats and conversely what deficiencies does Florida have that make you confident the Isles can advance?
I really don’t relish this match-up and don’t think any of Florida’s deficiencies give me particular confidence. It’s a match-up between two outstanding coaches who thrive on discipline and predictable structure. The only slight advantage I’d give the Isles is the familiarity and success under Trotz, whereas it seemed the Panthers and Joel Quenneville were still working out who pays the bills, who mows the lawn, who does the dishes.
The Panthers have more scary high-end skill, the Islanders have more robotic depth. But as we saw in 2016 — and all the more so in a five-game series — it will come down to some luck and goaltending. If Old Bobrovsky returns and helps Florida avenge the Greiss Heist, the rest may be moot.
Who will be the starting goaltender for the Islanders?
Great question! Despite Greiss’ history against the Panthers, he’s a UFA who’s about to be replaced by Ilya Sorokin. Semyon Varlamov, Sorokin’s friend, was brought in last summer on a long-term deal. Barring injury or Varlamov having an ugly camp — and he’s been sharp so far — I see them going with him over Greiss.
Will Islanders win the series or will the Panthers extract some revenge for 2016?
I should preface that I truly see this series as a toss-up and wouldn’t bet money on either side. If this series happened back in March/April, I’d have given the nod to the upward trending Panthers over the slumping Islanders. With Cizikas and Pelech back, however, I think the Isles have an even chance. Still, a playoff series with no games at the Coliseum just feels wrong. (I realize their first playoff series win in the last 26 years was in Brooklyn...just go with me here.) So I’ll say vengeance achieved, Panthers in five.
Big thanks to Dominik for his insight and taking to the time to chat with us.