The New York Islanders pushed the defending champion Lightning as far as they could, but fell short on Friday night in Tampa. Losing 1-0 to end their season.
Just five wins short of Stanley Cup glory for the first time since 1984, the 2020-21 New York Islanders rocket ship to immortality ran out of fuel on Friday night in Tampa, as they lost 1-0 to the defending champion Lightning.
Here are three takeaways from the bitter defeat.
1. Islanders Line Changes came too Late
To say the New York Islanders struggled to find any gaps in the Tampa Bay defense to exploit in Game Seven would be an understatement. The Isles, who stayed patient and committed to their system’s tenets to the very end, simply were never able to mount those big pushes we’re so accustomed to seeing from them.
The Islanders struggled to break out of their own defensive zone, they struggled to maintain control through the neutral zone, and finally, in the offensive third of the ice their forecheck was diced to bits by Tampa’s disciplined breakouts all night. It was hard to watch at times.
Obviously, there’s a lot of credit due to the Tampa Bay Lightning for this. They watched their tape, obviously, and studied the parts of previous games that had gone wrong for them, and they executed like champions on Friday, taking away all parts of the Islander gameplan that had found success.
What was shocking really was how long Islanders coach Barry Trotz waited to make some shuffles in his forward lines. Kyle Palmieri spent the majority of his night on the wing with J-G Pageau and Travis Zajac.
That third line combo was absolutely dreadful in Game Seven. They were out-shot 9-0 at 5v5, out-attempted 13-3 (total shot attempts) and 10-2 (unblocked shot attempts), and lost the expected goal (xG) battle handily, ceding more xGA than any other 5v5 Islander forward line while also accumulating the least of any, according to Natural Stat Trick.
Palmieri spent about a minute and a half of the third period lined up alongside both Mat Barzal and Jordan Eberle, and that was only after Leo Komarov had gone to the Islander locker room.
In the 1:15 those three spent together though their results were better than they were separated. 2 Corsi and Fenwick For (total and unblocked shot attempts), none Against, and .1 accumulated xGF, which was better than both the regular Barzal line featuring Leo, and Palmieri-Pageau-Zajac accrued, each of which played over ten minutes 5v5 ice time on Friday night.
Now, game state is certainly a factor when looking at the better underlyings posted by the Palmieri-Baral-Eberle line. By the time that trio had hit the ice together at 5v5, the third period was into its twilight and the Lightning had been fully shelled up in their own end staving off Islander attacks for the majority of the frame.
You could make the argument that the limited numbers we saw from them in this game are the result of a Tampa team who simply wasn’t interested in accruing offensive zone possession or taking risks to extend their lead. They were content to defend their own zone and leave the Islanders with nothing to claw their way back into the game.
That’s a fair assessment, in my book. But it’s still isn’t meant as an excuse to cover for why Trotz didn’t do something to shake up his offensive units earlier in the game.
At the end of the day, the Islanders relied on their system, which has brought them so far. One of the key doctrines of that system being not to take unnecessary risks, to let the game come to you, to keep your opponents in front of you, and the offense will eventually figure itself out.
On Friday it didn’t work that way, and the Islanders were sent packing from the NHL playoffs as a result.