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Florida Panthers vs New York Islanders: Playoff Preview

Islanders and Panthers

The last couple of decades haven’t been friendly to the Florida Panthers or New York Islanders. While both teams have made some playoff appearances, Cup contention always seemed to be out of the picture and neither team could really take that extra step to become a top team in the National Hockey League. The winner of the upcoming Panthers vs Islanders series in the Qualifying Round, beginning August 1, can be symbolic as both teams are trying to take that step from hopefuls to contenders.

As many fans remember, the two squads met in 2016 where the Islanders won their first playoff series in 23 years in six games. It was a back and forth series, but quite a bit has changed for both teams since then, such as coaching, goaltending, rosters, ownership, and the emergence of star players.

Heading into this series, both opponents are polar opposites in terms of their style of play. The Panthers rely heavily on top-six production and are a dangerous offensive team, while the Islanders’ main focus is shutdown defense under Barry Trotz’s coaching. This provides what should be an interesting series, to see how each squad’s traits match up against one another.

Panthers vs Islanders: Brief Statistical Breakdown

Statistics listed below are for the 2019-20 NHL Regular Season before the COVID-19 hiatus. The numbers in parentheses are where that team ranks among playoff teams in terms of that particular statistic.

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The Islanders and Panthers both won 35 games this past regular season in under 70 games. As the above statistics show, these teams play extremely differently and have different skillsets. The Panthers are a goal-scoring machine but also have given up the most goals among playoff teams. The Islanders on the other hand lack scoring, but don’t give up many goals as a defensive identity has been created on the Island.

Both teams’ special teams have been average at best this past season. In every playoff series, one of the most crucial deciding factors is special teams. The Panthers’ power play is dangerous, while the Islanders have struggled, and both penalty-killing units have been middle of the pack.

Offense

Florida Panthers

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Projected Lines (via dailyfaceoff.com)

Frank Vatrano- Aleksander Barkov- Evgenii Dadonov

Johnathan Huberdeau- Erik Haula- Mike Hoffman

Dominic Toninato- Lucas Wallmark- Brent Connolly

Colton Sceviour- Noel Acciari- Mark Pysyk

New York Islanders

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Projected Lines

Anders Lee- Mathew Barzal- Jordan Eberle

Anthony Beauvillier- Brock Nelson- Josh Bailey

Tom Kuhnhackl- Jean-Gabriel Pageau- Derick Brassard

Matt Martin- Casey Cizikas- Cal Clutterbuck

Who has the advantage?

Simply due to their production, the Florida Panthers have a distinct edge in offense. With the top-six talent the Panthers have, with players such as Aleksander Barkov, Johnathan Huberdeau, Mike Hoffman, and Evgenii Dadonov, it is no wonder that the Panthers don’t have many problems lighting up the scoresheet.

Looking at the top-six on both sides, the main difference is consistency. While it is obvious that the Panthers have more talent, players such as Jordan Eberle, Anders Lee, and Josh Bailey are very streaky players. When they’re at their best, they are all extremely dangerous players that can produce. However, that intensity and offensive touch aren’t there every nice.

Contrarily, the Islanders have significantly better forward depth than the Panthers. Jean-Gabriel Pageau is a gift to have as a third-line center and Derick Brassard and Tom Kuhnhackl have historically been good playoff players. The “identity” line of Martin, Cizikas, and Clutterbuck needs no introduction as they are the most physical line in hockey as that is the line’s primary purpose.

The Panthers’ bottom six is very mixed. Brett Connolly, Noel Acciari, and Lucas Wallmark all have some decent playoff experience and are good depth players. Toninato and Pysyk are still adjusting to playing offense at the NHL level, and those winger spots are major question marks for the Panthers.

At the end of the day, however, the numbers don’t lie. When comparing these team’s offenses, the Panthers easily come out on top.

Defense

Florida Panthers

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Projected Lines (via dailyfaceoff.com)

Aaron Ekblad- Mackenzie Weegar

Keith Yandle- Josh Brown

Michael Matheson- Anton Stralman

New York Islanders

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Projected Lines

Adam Pelech- Ryan Pulock

Devon Toews- Scott Mayfield

Nick Leddy- Johnny Boychuk

Who has the advantage?

The Islanders have a monumentally better defense than the Florida Panthers. Ever since Barry Trotz was hired, the Islanders have redefined themselves as a defense-first team by implementing a brand new defensive system due to their lack of skill on paper. They have eight quality defensemen in Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech, Scott Mayfield, Devon Toews, Nick Leddy, Johnny Boychuk, Noah Dobson, and Andy Greene.

The Panthers’ defense, statistically, was one of the worst units in the NHL. Players such as Aaron Ekblad and Keith Yandle are solid players, but offensive defensemen at heart as the Panthers lack stay-at-home defensemen. They are an offensively-minded team that struggles on the defensive side of the puck, and it may cost them.

The Panthers vs Islanders series may be a hard-fought one, but the defense can definitely set the Islanders apart from their opponents.

Goaltending

Florida Panthers

Goaltenders

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Sergei Bobrovsky

Chris Driedger

New York Islanders

Goaltenders

semyon-varlamov

Semyon Varlamov

Thomas Greiss

Who has the advantage?

The answer to this question isn’t quite as obvious as the previous two. Semyon Varlamov and Thomas Greiss are fringe starters at best and have lacked consistency ever since the goalie rotation came to an end. The Islanders’ starting spot is still up for grabs and will be dependent on how they performed during training camp.

Sergei Bobrovsky has been a top goaltender in the National Hockey League for years. Surprisingly, this year has been a debacle. While it was certainly a difficult adjustment to go from a defensive team such as Columbus to an offensive juggernaut in Florida, this extreme of a decline in play was not expected, as he posted a .900% SV and 3.23 GAA in the regular season.

However, the hockey world has seen what Sergei Bobrovsky has done and what he is capable of doing. For which team has the better goaltending, we will have to wait and see. If strictly this season is being discussed however, the Islanders have a clear advantage between the pipes.

Coaching and Experience

 

Among active coaches, Joel Quenneville and Barry Trotz have the most all-time wins. However, it is evident that Trotz has had more of an impact on the Islanders than Quenneville has had on the Panthers. Quenneville has had the more successful career overall, but Trotz has transformed the Islanders from the worst defensive team in the NHL to the best defensive team in the NHL (by goals against) in his first year of coaching on the Island.

The Islanders also have the edge in experience, as they have a mix of veteran players and young guns. Players such as Johnny Boychuk, Andy Greene, and Nick Leddy all have championship experience, which is something Florida lacks. In terms of coaching and experience, it would be inaccurate to say the Islanders don’t have the edge.

Panthers vs Islanders: Prediction

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History sometimes repeats itself. We feel the same way in this case, and have the New York Islanders edging out the Florida Panthers in 4 games (3-1 NYI). In the playoffs, depth, defense, and experience are usually what pushes a team deep into the Playoffs. As discussed earlier, the Islanders have a distinct advantage in all three.

The Panthers are a solid team, but the Islanders are more built for playoff success. We have seen offensive and defensive teams battle it out in the playoffs before, and the defensive team almost always comes out on top.

Game By Game Prediction

Game 1- Panthers 3, Islanders 5

Game 2- Panthers 4, Islanders 3 (2OT)

Game 3- Islanders 3, Panthers 2 (OT)

Game 4- Islanders 4, Panthers 1

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