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Can Barzal, Tavares overcome Islanders’ putrid defense?

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Plenty of NHL teams would kill to have centers like Mathew Barzal or John Tavares on their roster, particularly when they carry a combined cap hit under $6.5 million.

That’s part of what makes the New York Islanders frustrating, then: they have both, along with some other quality players, and yet they find themselves sitting right outside the East playoff picture at the moment.

Why? Well, it’s because they’re basically as bad at stopping people from scoring on them as they are at generating offense. They’re currently at a -17 goal differential for this season, so honestly, they might be lucky to be where they are today.

It would be convenient if you could just blame everything on their goalies Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss, and there’s no denying that they are part of the problem. Halak’s numbers are mediocre (.908 save percentage) while Greiss has been abysmal (.885 save percentage, which is almost unthinkable for a well-paid goalie in 2017-18). Unfortunately, plugging in a better goalie might just shine a light on how terrible this team’s defense has been.

In seven of their last eight games, the Islanders have allowed at least 39 shots on goal and they’ve been out-shot in seven of eight as well; the only exception came when they outshot Buffalo 29-22 on Feb. 8 … and they lost 4-3. According to Natural Stat Trick, the Islanders have allowed a league-high 608 high-danger chances against at 5-on-5; the Washington Capitals come in a distant second with 560.

With 35.5 shots on goal allowed per game, the Islanders rank last in the league, and they’re giving up four more shots on goal than the 31.1 they average against opponents.

Maybe some of that comes down to the same creative talents making mistakes …

… Yet it’s difficult to shake the notion that something’s very wrong here.

Beyond personnel, you wonder if Doug Weight wasn’t totally prepared for life as NHL head coach.

He brings a wealth of experience as a fantastic NHL player, and he’s seasoned as assistant, but this appears to be Weight’s first head coaching gig at any level. Considering the career path of GM Garth Snow, the Islanders might have expected Weight to be another quick learner, but perhaps some of this comes down to systems and tactics?

Whatever is at the root of this problem, it should be treated as a crisis by the Islanders, particularly if Tavares is still making up his mind about his future. If Tavares wants to see more progress before he signs an extension, wouldn’t it behoove the Isles to dig deep to find any sort of solution?

No doubt, it’s an urgent time, as Weight admitted today.

Indeed, this is a pivotal week. Along with facing the Blue Jackets at home on Tuesday, the Islanders also host the Rangers on Thursday and then turn around for a road agame against the Hurricanes on Friday. That’s three contests, all against Metropolitan Division opponents. You could mark most games as important in general, but that’s especially true if those contests end in regulation.

On the bright side, the Islanders have Barzal, Tavares, and plenty of motivation. Even if that urgency brings with it some angst.

This team is really leaking chances, though, and you wonder if they can “outscore their problems.” The answer has been “No” far too often lately, even with Barzal rocketing up the charts.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Bruins without Bergeron vs. Leafs in Game 4

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The Boston Bruins rolled through much of the regular season despite injuries, even to key players like Patrice Bergeron. The fact that they’re unfortunately experienced playing without Bergeron is probably the only silver lining regarding his late scratch heading into Game 4.

The Bruins announced that Bergeron is day-to-day with what they’re deeming an upper-body injury, so Riley Nash slips into Bergeron’s spot between Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.

This stands as an obvious opportunity for Auston Matthews to roam more freely against the Bruins and a chance for the Maple Leafs to tie this series in front of their home fans.

As of this writing, the two teams are tied up 1-1. Click here for the livestream link.

Doughty, Hedman, Subban are 2018 Norris Trophy finalists

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Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings, Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning and P.K. Subban of the Nashville Predators have been named finalists for the 2018 Norris Trophy. The award, voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Assocation, is given “to the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position,” will be handed out during the NHL Awards show June 20 in Las Vegas.

This is the fourth time Doughty has been name a finalist. He won the award in 2016 after finishing second the year before. Hedman finished third in the voting last season and this is the second time he’s finished in the top three. Subban, like Doughty, has a Norris Trophy on his resume (2013). This is the third time he’s been up for the award.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

The Case for Drew Doughty: The Kings blue liner finished sixth in scoring among defensemen with 60 points, which included 10 goals. He also led all NHL players in total ice time with 2,200:31, finishing with an average of 26:50 per game. He had a strong possession game with a 53 percent Corsi and a 4.39 Relative Corsi, meaning LA fired nearly five shots more per 60 minutes when Doughty was on the ice.

“I’m not starting the season, thinking ‘oh I got to get the most points I can, so I can win the Norris,’” he told The Athletic last month. “I’m starting the season, thinking, ‘I’ve got to get my defensive game even better, because that’s where my team needs me the most – to lead the charge in that area. It’s a team game and it’s about winning championships.”

The Case for Victor Hedman: Hedman finished tied for first among defensemen in goals scored with 17 and finished fourth in points with 63. He set a career high in ice time with 1,990:30 total minutes, averaging 25:51 per night. The possession stats for the Lightning defenseman were solid as well, with a 52 percent Corsi and a 0.38 Relative Corsi.

“I’m fortunate to be on an unbelievable team that helped me out through my first decade in the league, to help me grow into the player I want to be,” he told Sports Illustrated in February. “Still got stuff to work on and get better at, but obviously winning the Norris would be something that I want to do. I want to be at the top of my game. I want to play my best every night.”

The Case for P.K. Subban: Subban was right behind Hedman in goals scored (16) and right behind Doughty in total points (59). He logged 1,977:24 of ice time, playing in all 82 games for the Predators this season. As you’d expect from a Norris finalist, his possession stats were good, as he finished with a 52 percent Corsi and a 0.3 Relative Corsi.

Earlier this season, Subban told the Tennessean he felt his defensive game was overlooked. “The offensive part of my game has always been there,” he said. “The defensive part has always been there as well, but for whatever reason, I don’t seem to get the credit for what I do in my (defensive) zone and how I contribute defensively for our hockey club.”

2018 NHL Award finalists
Lady Byng (Friday)
Selke Trophy
Vezina Trophy

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

WATCH LIVE: Leafs, Blue Jackets try to even things up

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Game 4: Boston Bruins at Toronto Maple Leafs, 7 p.m. ET (Bruins lead series 2-1)
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Call: Mike Emrick, Pierre McGuire, Eddie Olczyk
Series preview
Stream

Game 4: Washington Capitals at Columbus Blue Jackets, 7:30 p.m. ET (Blue Jackets lead 2-1)
USA
Call: Ken Daniels, Darren Pang
Series preview
Stream

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Predators’ Ryan Hartman suspended one game for illegal check to head

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When the Nashville Predators attempt to close out their series against the Colorado Avalanche on Friday night they will be without forward Ryan Hartman.

The NHL’s Department of Player Safety announced on Thursday afternoon that Hartman has been suspended one game for an illegal check to the head of Avalanche forward Carl Soderberg during the Predators’ 3-2 win in Game 4 on Wednesday.

Here is the NHL’s explanation for the suspension.

He was given a two-minute minor penalty for charging on the play. It happened early in the third period.

It turned out to be a pretty eventful night for Hartman as he was also penalized in the second period for roughing and holding the stick during a sequence that saw him get speared by Avalanche forward Sven Andrighetto.

Andrighetto was given a roughing penalty during the sequence, but to this point has not received any supplemental discipline for the spearing incident.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

This is already the fourth suspension of the playoffs as Hartman joins Drew Doughty (one game), Nazem Kadri (three games), and Josh Morrissey (one game) as players to sit for at least one game.

There was only one suspension during the entire 2017 playoffs.

The Predators acquired Hartman at the trade deadline from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for Victor Ejdsell, a first-round pick, and a fourth-round pick. In 78 games this season between the two teams he scored 11 goals to go with 20 assists. Three of those goals game as a member of the Predators. So far in the first-round series against Colorado he has scored one goal for the Predators.

Related: Avalanche to start Andrew Hammond in Game 5

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.