The New York Islanders and Florida Panthers will face each other in the best-of-five qualifying round when the season begins in the NHL. Although there is no date for the start of the games, two NHL.com writers have already started the debate over who has the advantage in the series.
David Satriano, editor
Neither team was playing well when the season ended March 12 due to concerns over the coronavirus, the Panthers having lost 12 of their last 18 games (6-9-3) and the Islanders nine of 11, including seven in a row (0 -3-4). The momentum is lost with the last few games that took place months ago, so I will give the advantage to the deeper team, the Panthers. They are led offensively by attackers Jonathan Huberdeau (78 points), Aleksander Barkov (62 points) and Mike Hoffman (59 points), all players capable of resuming a match. Mathew Barzal (60 points) is the only Islanders player with more than 54 points, and only Brock Nelson (26 goals) and Anders Lee (20) scored at least 20 goals. Florida has five 20-goal scorers (Hoffman, 29; Evgenii Dadonov, 25; Huberdeau, 23; Barkov, 20; Noel Acciari, 20). Panthers also have veteran defenders Aaron Ekblad, Keith Yandle and Anton Stralman. Goalkeeper Sergei Bobrovsky proved he could play big games by allowing eight goals in a sweep of the Presidents’ Trophy winner Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the Eastern Conference as a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets last season.
Video: MTL @ FLA: Huberdeau buries Haula’s forage in front
William Douglas, editor
There is no doubt that the Panthers have more goalscorers than the Islanders. Florida finished sixth in the NHL in goals (228) and the Islanders finished 24th (189). But the Islanders have a big advantage that will allow them to cross a series: experience. The Panthers’ last experience in this type of situation dates back to 2016, when they last participated in the Stanley Cup Playoffs; Jaromir Jagr, 43, was their top scorer (66 points; 27 goals, 39 assists) and Roberto Luongo, 36, was in the goal. They lost to the Islanders in the first round in six games. And if this season is any indication, the Islanders are ready to beat the Panthers again. New York won all three regular season games against Florida and scored an 8-4 advantage in goals. The qualifying round will focus on defense, and that’s where the Islanders shine. New York allowed 190 goals in 68 games and finished ninth in goals per game (2.79). Florida allowed 224 goals in 69 games and tied the New Jersey Devils for the 28th goal against goals per game (3.25). Yes, Bobrovsky was amazing for Columbus when he swept Tampa Bay in 2019. But even with that performance, he was 11-18 with a goals-against-average of 3.14 and a save percentage of .902 in 34 playoff games (30 starts) for Columbus and the Philadelphia Flyers. Guardian of the Islanders Semyon Varlamov is 13-13 with a GAA of 2.57 and a save percentage of .915 in 26 playoff games (25 starts) with the Washington Capitals and the Colorado Avalanche.
Video: COL @ NYI: Varlamov blocks the avalanche
The Islanders did win a playoff round last season, but the Panthers have a lot of big game experience led by the striker Brian Boyle (114 playoff games) and Stralman (104). They also have a three-time Stanley Cup winning coach, Joel Quenneville. Beyond coaching, Florida ranked 10th in power play (21.3%) and New York 24th (17.3%). That’s why the Panthers will win the series.
All good points, but under coach Barry Trotz, who won the Capitals Cup in 2018, the Islanders have shown that they can thwart opposing power plays. The Islanders scored the 15th penalty (80.7%) and allowed 34 power-play goals, tied for fourth in the NHL. In sweeping the Panthers for the first time since 2012-13, the Islanders held them a power play goal in 10 chances and scored two goals in eight games with man advantage. The three games were close: the Islanders won 3-2 in a shootout at the Nassau Coliseum on October 12; 2-1 at the Barclays Center on November 9; and 3-1 at BB&T Center on December 12. The Panthers edged the Islanders in three games by a combination of 108-94, but New York had a 60-41 advantage in block shooting. Ultimately, Trotz players know how to play Florida in close games, which is why New York will move forward.