2. Scott Mayfield and Semyon Varlamov Will Get Scapegoated After Thursday
In order to shield myself from disappointment, I often tell myself that sports fans are inherently illogical and unreasonable beings. They just are. They love these organizations that they cheer for, and are willing to continue loving them through the pain those organizations sometimes bring them.
In the case of Islanders fans, there’s no doubt the passion that courses through this fanbase. Sometimes though, that passion tends to turn toward the illogical and unreasonable. We’re all guilty of it at different times, myself included.
People are going to scapegoat Scott Mayfield and Semyon Varlamov for tonight’s loss. The fanbase has been growing impatient with Mayfield of late, and tonight’s performance is only going to pour gasoline on that fire.
Just an hour removed from the game and already Islanders fans on Twitter are calling for Mayfield to be scratched, and for Braydon Coburn to make his Islanders debut. Which, just… *sighs*… Just no.
The heat map posted above is from Micah Blake McCurdy’s HockeyViz. It shows unblocked shot rates in the defensive zone for Braydon Coburn’s 2020-21 season. As you can see, there’s a whole lot of red, which in this case is bad. Very bad, in fact. See that biiiiggggg strip of dark red running all the way down the slot and to the net front? Yeah, you don’t want that.
Coburn is the polar opposite of what you want in this Islanders lineup right now. The 36-year-old defenseman, like your aunt’s Thanksgiving turkey, is cooked beyond repair and his best years are behind him.
The clips in this YouTube video are all years old now, but I think the general sentiment of the video is more what I’m looking to show. Coburn, in his younger, more capable years, was never a great defender. At 36, that isn’t going to suddenly reverse course.
As I see it, the Islanders brought in Coburn for two reasons. One of which is that he brings veteran experience to the locker room in deep playoff runs. Coburn won the Stanley Cup just last season as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning. The other reason is to act as the team’s seventh or eighth defenseman. Not to insert him into the lineup instead of a healthy Scott Mayfield.
Semyon Varlamov is another Islander who will likely take an unfair beating from the fanbase after Thursday’s loss. Varly didn’t do anything particularly wrong. He probably should’ve saved Taylor Hall’s breakaway goal, and that’s not nothing and I am not trying to minimize it, but the Islanders had played extremely poorly up to that point, and didn’t deserve to be in the game anymore.
Varlamov is the only reason that was a one-goal game when Hall buried his first goal as a Bruin on a semi-breakaway no less. But, again, what did I say about sports fans? They’re inherently illogical and unreasonable.
There are fans who still don’t like Varly. They’ve proclaimed that he’s incapable of stealing the Islanders a game, which is categorically untrue. They say he allows too many soft goals, which has some truth to it, but it’s more than made up for by his ability to stop more high-danger shots than an average goalie.
Fans are frustrated by the team’s performance, and that’s okay. That’s part of this terrible yet awesome experience we call being sports fans. Fans are going to turn on and scapegoat players, that’s how this goes. But, maybe we should all try to keep our heads and wait to see what happens on Friday. Okay? Great.