The Game 2 performance by the New York Islanders on Wednesday was much more familiar than the sloppy, tired Game 1 effort against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday night.
Head coach Barry Trotz has done a great job of keeping the Islanders focused on looking forward, rather than looking back, and the team came into Game 2 looking like a completely different team. “You can’t dwell on things in the playoffs,” Barzal said. “It’ll eat you up. You’ve just got to have a short-term memory and move on.” (from ‘Islanders know they must have short memory for Game 2,’ Newsday, 09/08/2020)
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Despite the positive mindset and fast start for the Islanders, the Game 2 loss was harder to swallow.
Matt Martin scored the first goal of the game just 1:24 into the first period. The Islanders were able to keep the Lightning to just 21 shots while registering 28 of their own. Unfortunately, Martin’s tally was the only one they could capitalize on.
Wednesday’s loss is just the second time the Islanders have dropped back-to-back games in these Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Victor Hedman scored on a slap shot from the blue line with just 1:35 left on the clock in the first period, a goal that Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov likely wants back.
The next goal came with 8.8 seconds left in the game, as Nikita Kucherov converted on a turnover behind Varlamov’s net giving the Lightning a 2-0 series lead.
There were a few reasons the Islanders lost this game, but the effort was far better than in Game 1 Monday night. Trotz clearly sent a message to his players, and the refocus was evident.
In Game 1, we didn’t see much of the usual forechecking, suffocating defense, and counter-punching from the Islanders that we’re so used to seeing. It presented itself again Wednesday night, in a much closer matchup.
Unfortunately for the Islanders, they lacked a finishing touch in Game 2, as they were unable to convert on high-danger scoring chances.
The opportunities were there for the Islanders, but they lacked the ability to finish in a game where they outplayed their opponent.
Brock Nelson took a nasty hit from Lightning forward Alex Killorn, and he received a five-minute major and a game misconduct. The Islanders center headed to the locker room, but fortunately, he returned in the middle of the second period.
Upon his return, Nelson took another nasty hit from Barclay Goodrow, a cross-check to the head that appeared to have him shaken up.
“[It was a] dangerous play and we’ll let the league deal with that.” said Trotz. “The second one, I just thought that was a target at the head. They knew he was hurt, they targeted him a little bit.”
(Barry Trotz, 09/09/2020, post-game press conference)
Power Play Struggles
The Islanders had a man advantage for five minutes as a result of the Killorn hit on Nelson.
The team’s play at 5-on-5 has been excellent throughout the playoffs, but their power play continues to struggle, dating back to before the NHL pause. At just 17.2 percent on the power play in the playoffs, the Isles are not able to capitalize on crucial scoring opportunities.
Often times, the Islanders find themselves getting “too cute” with the puck, trying to make a fancy play, or create an extra pass rather than get the puck to the net for a scoring opportunity. This was evident on the five-minute major, which felt as short as a two-minute minor.
“We have a 5-on-3, we want to capitalize. You have like 38 seconds so plenty of time,” Nelson said. “You’re hoping to get a look there and that could be a difference-maker in the third. It stings giving one up with eight seconds left. There’s no denying that.”
Later, the Islanders received a two-man advantage, yet it was more of the same. The theme of Wednesday night’s loss for the Isles was missed opportunities, as they ended the night 0-for-4 on the power play.
The silver lining here is that the Islanders were able to refocus and get back to their style of play for the most part in Game 2.
“We’ve lost some overtime games, we’ve lost in different ways that have punched us in the stomach a few times in the last series,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “This one is a little bit of a shot to the gut. Every time we’ve done that we’ve got up. You saw us. We had our energy. We had our game today and we just didn’t get the results.”
“I liked a lot about our game, other than probably the last 30 seconds of that game” said Trotz.
Trotz went back to Varlamov in Game 2 and seemingly made the right choice as he made a couple of big saves when the Islanders needed him to. It should be Varly’s net for Game 3, but time will tell.
With confidence back in their No. 1 goaltender, the Islanders need to bring the same pedigree to Game 3, with a slight adjustment.
Get the puck to the net.
Too many extra passes and not enough shot attempts contributed to the Islanders’ loss that saw them fall behind two games to none in the Eastern Conference Final.
Brayden Point left Game 2 and his status is still unknown for Game 3, while Killorn just may hear from player safety and might be unavailable as well for his hit on Nelson.
The Islanders have a chance to change the momentum in Game 3, and must do so before things get out of reach against a high-powered Lightning team. Fortunately, the Islanders continue to look ahead, rather than behind them, and believe they can still win this series.
“It’s a tough way to lose,” Martin said. “We believed we could still win this series, and still do. Play like that, more often than not, you’re going to win. After a blowout loss, I liked our response as a group.
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