There were plenty of questions preceding Saturday’s game between the New York Islanders and the Florida Panthers for each team.
The Panthers had obvious defensive concerns, outside of Ekblad the Panthers league-trailing defense is only complimented by Keith Yandle’s offensive abilities.
Along with poor defense, the Panthers had reason to be concerned about two-time Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky. He’s had a lackluster year but although doubted, showed up on saturday as one of the only positive notes to an outskated and outworked Panthers club.
The biggest concern for the Islanders was preventing the incredibly talented Panthers offense from taking the pace of the game and making Isles starting goaltender Semyon Varlamov a shooting target.
However, the Islander’s stingy and hard-hitting signature system worked perfectly. The steamrolling Isles were physical, kept the puck outside of their own zone, and limited the Panthers to almost no high danger scoring chances until the third period.
It was only eleven minutes in that the Panthers recorded their first shot, and it was only after an exhausted five d-men (Johnny Boychuk took to the locker room following a high hit in the second) came out loose in the third that the Panthers recorded their first and only goal off of a lucky bounce under thirty seconds to start the period.
Game two could see some changes however, the Panthers have gotten a taste of the Islanders shutdown defense and know they will have to outwork and outskate the Islanders.
The question is if they can get it done.
The Islanders depth allows for every single line to accomplish a physical chip and chase high-pressure play style, with guys like Aaron Ekblad clocking over 25 minutes in game one, the question serves if the skillful Panthers can keep up with such a pace and style of hockey. Bobrovsky will also have to be just as consistent if not improved as both teams shake off the midsummer rust and hope for much smoother production, passing, and ultimately scoring.
For the Islanders, consistency is key.
If the Islanders can replicate game one’s intensity, pace, and defensive perfection throughout three periods then the Panthers have trouble. This combined with a seemingly improving powerplay should serve extremely intense for an inexperienced and top-heavy panthers. For the Panthers, they need to disrupt an extremely locked down Islanders defense.
They need to enter the game and let the Islanders know they aren’t afraid to get physical. The panthers bottom-six need to maintain pace and keep the puck out of their zone to set up Huberdeau, Barkov, and Hoffman alike to outplay the Islanders. With Boychuk likely out and Greene likely filling in, it will still serve as one of the most challenging defensive mountains to climb for a team made up of pure offense.
The Islanders offense was dazzled by the work of Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Anthony Beauvillier, their respective lines were efficient and showed off some developed chemistry and skill.
To dominate, however, it will have to be a top to bottom Isles offense in order to continue to outmatch the Panthers.
Barzal and the top line were strong but will likely need to show on the score sheet to help the Islanders dictate the game offensively. A stunning play or goal by Barzal would put the nail in the coffin for the Islanders slow to start offensive struggles.
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