Islanders vs. Panthers: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifier Preview

The NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers kick off the Return to Play plan on August 1. This week, PHT will be previewing each series with a look at storylines and end with our predictions for the eight matchups.

(7) New York Islanders vs. (10) Florida Panthers — TV schedule, start times, channels

Saturday, Aug. 1: Panthers vs. Islanders, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Panthers vs. Islanders, 12 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Islanders vs. Panthers, 12 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 7: Islanders vs. Panthers*
Sunday, Aug. 9: Panthers vs. Islanders*

Islanders – Panthers preview: Top storylines for Stanley Cup Qualifiers series

Will Sergei Bobrovsky be worth the money?

Sergei Bobrovsky Panthers Islanders preview
(Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)

Coming in with a whopping $10 million cap hit, Bobrovsky stands far above any other player in this best-of-five series from a salary standpoint. That said, you don’t need charts full of “fancy stats” to realize that the Panthers haven’t gotten their money’s worth from the debut “Bob” season.

Squint a little and you’ll realize there are reasons for optimism, though:

  • That’s all in the past, as the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers represent a clean slate for Bobrovsky, the Panthers, and Islanders.
  • “Bob” delivered with a .925 save percentage in 10 playoff games for the Blue Jackets after a mostly rotten contract year. He also heated up down the stretch. In 28 games following the 2019 NHL All-Star break, Bobrovsky produced a strong .924 save percentage.

Yes, there are plenty of counterpoints to throw water on those positive thoughts. Most obviously, the Blue Jackets really clamped down late in 2018-19 (just ask the shocked-and-swept Lightning), while the Panthers have been porous defensively.

But goalies are strange, and are likely to be even more unpredictable during the NHL Return to Play. Would it be that outrageous if a goalie with Bobrovsky’s resume bounced back?

Strength vs. strength: Can Islanders defense slow down Panthers offense?

With 3.30 goals scored per game, the Panthers ranked sixth in the NHL. Meanwhile, the Islanders limited opponents as you’d hope and expect from a Barry Trotz team (2.79 goals allowed per game, ninth-best in the NHL).

Assuming both teams maintain their basic styles and profiles during the NHL Return to Play, the Panthers and Islanders would present an intriguing battle of strength vs. strength.

Some might argue that Aleksander Barkov‘s defensive abilities have become overrated, but few would argue that he can produce for the Panthers. Jonathan Huberdeau (78 points, tied for 10th-most in NHL) has been even tougher to contain as he’s gotten healthier, and the Panthers possess plenty of other weapons. (Although depth isn’t their strongest point.)

Between Semyon Varlamov and Thomas Greiss, it seems like the Islanders should have a capable goalie behind Trotz’s responsible defensive system. Will that rust benefit the Islanders, or will they struggle to stop the Panthers following the pandemic pause?

Barry Trotz Panthers Islanders preview 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers series NHL
(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Weakness vs. weakness: Islanders offense vs. Panthers defense

Circling back to Bobrovsky, it’s grossly unfair to lay the Panthers’ goal prevention problems solely at his feet/skates. The Panthers regularly allowed far more offense than they created, often leaving Bob and others out to dry when it came to expected goals and high-danger scoring chances.

The Islanders’ offense checks out in certain areas more than one might think (and their defense gives up a little more than you might expect). That said, overall, one would expect the Islanders to avoid slugging things out offensively.

Can Mathew Barzal and several other scorers manufacture enough offense to outgun the Panthers? If Florida’s defense struggles like it did before the pause, the answer could be “Yes.”

Rare playoff appearances for Varlamov and/or Greiss

On paper, the duo of Semyon Varlamov and Thomas Greiss give the Islanders an edge over the Panthers, particularly looking at Bobrovsky in 2019-20 alone.

But it’s worth pondering just how long it’s been since either Varlamov or Greiss served as go-to playoff goalies.

Greiss has only played in 13 playoff games as (an often strong) career backup. He only appeared in 36 minutes worth of game time during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

As experienced as Varlamov is, we haven’t seen him in the postseason very often lately. Varlamov hasn’t played a playoff game since 2013-14, and before that, his experience stretches back to his Capitals days.

That only means so much, of course. It’s worth at least mentioning because teams are far likely to painstakingly key on weaknesses and relentlessly go over game tape when you’re focusing on a single opponent.

Who’s out? Who might return?

Islanders: The Isles exit the pandemic pause about as healthy as you can ask for. The Islanders traded for Andy Greene in large part because of an injury to Adam Pelech. Now they’ll have both defensemen as options, leaving Barry Trotz with some potential conundrums. Casey Cizikas appears to have a clean bill of health, too. Oliver Wahlstrom ranks among the most intriguing Islanders players who didn’t make the training camp cut. Meanwhile, Ilya Sorokin can get acquainted with the team, but cannot participate in actual games.

Panthers: Aaron Ekblad missed significant training camp time, but Joel Quenneville said he should be ready for the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers. Injuries don’t look like much of an issue for the Panthers, either, so neither team will have many health-related excuses. (Of course, that can change quickly once the NHL Return to Play kicks into another gear.)

More on 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, NHL Return to Play series:

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.

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    Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

    Ilya Mikheyev
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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

    Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

    Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

    Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

    Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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    Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

    The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

    Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

    After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

    Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

    Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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    MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

    But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

    “I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

    Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

    “I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

    Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

    Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

    Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

    All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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    SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

    Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

    The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

    Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

    Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.