Joel Quenneville

Islanders take 2-0 series lead vs. Panthers; Time to bench Bobrovsky?

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Whether you put a lot or very little of the blame on Sergei Bobrovsky, the Panthers are in big trouble, as the Islanders won Game 2, 4-2 to take a commanding 2-0 series lead.

Should the Panthers bench Bobrovsky for another option, such as lightly-used backup Chris Driedger? That isn’t the easiest question to answer, and coach Joel Quenneville doesn’t have much time to mull it over. The Islanders have a chance to sweep the Panthers swiftly, as Game 3 takes place on Wednesday.

Islanders take advantage of sloppy Panthers play, goaltending to take 2-0 series lead

Early on, the Panthers won the special teams battle.

Florida killed a high-sticking double-minor by Michael Matheson, then Mike Hoffman scored the 1-0 goal just as their power play began. Unfortunately for the Panthers, that lead — and those special teams victories — would not last.

Things fell apart for the Panthers during the second period, as the Islanders scored three of the four goals in a busy, sloppy middle frame. The Islanders exploited the Panthers’ mistakes (and maybe Bobrovsky’s fading confidence?) to score plenty of goals, including going 2-for-7 on the power play.

Should Panthers consider changes, including benching Bobrovsky?

To some extent, the Panthers hands (paws?) are tied. When you spend $10 million per year on a goalie, you kind of have to cross your fingers and hope things work out. At least long-term.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

But, right now, the Panthers are on the brink of elimination. This team isn’t perfect defensively by any stretch, yet with every goal at a premium against a structurally stingy Islanders squad, the Panthers really cannot afford to wait until Bobrovsky hopefully finds his game.

Yes, this was a laser by Ryan Pulock. Sometimes you need your goalie to stop these, though:

Joel Quenneville should at least explore the idea of giving Chris Driedger a shot.

While it wasn’t a large sample size, Driedger managed a strong .938 save percentage over 12 games in 2019-20. When given opportunities, Driedger produced solid stats at other levels recently, whether he was in the ECHL or AHL.

None of that means Driedger would be able to clean up all of the Panthers’ messes. Again, it’s not necessarily all Bobrovsky’s fault.

Yet, at this pace, can the Panthers really afford to just hope that the results change while they do the same things? Maybe this is a matter that’s too big for a one-day turnaround, but this current setup doesn’t seem to be working.

As a side note, the Islanders received a scare when Mathew Barzal crashed hard into the boards late in Game 2. Remarkably, Barzal stayed in the game, so it seems like he’s OK. Still, it was such a violent crash that it’s worth keeping an eye out for updates.

(7) New York Islanders vs. (10) Florida Panthers (NYI leads series 2-0)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Islanders 2, Panthers 1 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Islanders 4, Panthers 2
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Islanders vs. Panthers, 12 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 7: Islanders vs. Panthers*
Sunday, Aug. 9: Panthers vs. Islanders*

* If necessary

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

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.

NHL Bubble Wrap: Life during Return to Play; Updates on Crosby, others

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As the NHL training camp news shifts to playoff bubble news, the surroundings change, but some of the main considerations remain the same. For instance: we’re getting updates on the likes of Sidney Crosby, Dougie Hamilton, and David Pastrnak during this edition of the NHL Bubble Wrap.

Glimpses of life in the NHL Bubble: Food and games seem pretty solid

Confession: I was kind of crossing my fingers for the NHL Bubble food memes.

After all, NBA people had a field day with this one:

To my chagrin, and to more grins for NHL players, it seems like things are pretty top notch so far:

Mmmm, breakfast.

Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy believes that the hub experience will be tight-knit, and feel like a “permanent road trip.”

While that brings up images of “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles,” it sounds like there will mainly be video games and … Settlers of Catan?

You might be able to kill all the time between Monday and the start of exhibition games merely exploring the details of NHL Bubble life.

(Do you have “The Muffin Man” in your head now, too?)

[2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule / NHL on NBC TV schedule]

Injury updates for Crosby, Pastrnak, and more

Moving on from the breakfast (which may occasionally include grits) to the nitty-gritty:

  • Mostly good news for Sidney Crosby and the Penguins. Crosby was a “full participant” in Monday’s practice. That said, coach Mike Sullivan said the team will decide if Crosby will play in the Flyers exhibition on Tuesday. Does that make it (drumroll please?) a game-time decision? (That game airs at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN on Tuesday.)
  • Let’s keep piling on the happy stuff like ingredients into an omelette. David Pastrnak ranked as a full participant in Bruins practice. He even got up to some rascal behavior. Things aren’t as clear for fellow Bruins winger Ondrej Kase, though.
  • The Hurricanes still consider Dougie Hamilton “unfit to play.” Not great for a defenseman who put up Norris-level numbers, although reports indicate the injury at least isn’t related to his broken fibula from earlier in 2019-20. Here’s some comic relief for Hurricanes fans:

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.

Islanders vs. Panthers: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifier Preview

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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.

PHT Morning Skate: NHL won’t restrict coaches if play resumes (even older ones)

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from the NHL and around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

NHL not restricting coaches and other matters relating to COVID-19/return to play

• ESPN’s Emily Kaplan reports that the NHL will place no restrictions on coaches that would entail “prohibiting them from doing their jobs” if play resumes. Coaches with certain at-risk factors (including advanced age) won’t be restricted from coaching teams. Some of this might boil down to the wishes of the NHL Coaches’ Association. I can’t say I’m pumped that masks aren’t an instant requirement, but I’m also not thrilled that players won’t be wearing full face shields. Why not take the precautions that make the most sense, even in a process that might be risky overall?

Anyway, read on for more from Kaplan. [ESPN]

• Speaking of throwing a debatable amount of caution to the wind, the Rangers stated that Kaapo Kakko looks likely to return to play. This is notable, as Kakko is a Type 1 Diabetic. Rangers president John Davidson claims that the team’s doctors are giving Kakko the green light. I don’t know, gang. Perhaps we’ll just have to get used to players “choosing” to roll the dice? [NHL.com]

• For the first time ever, the Hockey Hall of Fame will induct a class without in-person debates. Instead, there will be a “virtual conference call.” TSN’s Frank Seravalli provides details on this rare process. [TSN]

• Adam Gretz breaks down why the Canadiens could be a tough matchup for the Penguins. And, no, Carey Price isn’t the main reason. [Pensburgh]

Darcy Kuemper explains that, after being off the ice for months, “you kind of have to re-teach yourself how to play goalie.” If nothing else, Kuemper faces one of the bigger challenges to regain his past form, simply because he’s been legitimately elite since January 2019, basically. [Arizona Republic]

Departures, Sabres firing fallout, and other hockey links

• Now-former Rochester Americans coach Chris Taylor spoke to Bill Hoppe about getting fired. When word surfaced that the Sabres were firing Jason Botterill, Taylor believed that it would be limited to that. Instead, it was a purge where a stunning 22 people were fired. Taylor admits he didn’t see it coming. That’s pretty understandable, being that the Americans finished second in their division for two seasons in a row, and third during Taylor’s first campaign as head coach. [Buffalo Hockey Beat]

• Lyle “Spector” Richardson notes that Botterill ranks among assistant GMs who couldn’t find big success as GMs. Interesting stuff, although I’d argue that Ron Hextall did a mostly good job with the Flyers, particularly cleaning up their cap nightmares. He just* made the classic mistake of … um, hiring someone with almost the same last name? [Featurd]

* — OK, there were multiple errors, but I’d still give Hextall a “B” or “B+” overall.

• Why a Connor McDavid rookie card auction already surpassed $70K. It’s on its way to becoming the most expensive modern hockey card. [Edmonton Journal]

• EA Sports downplayed rumblings about “NHL 21” being left out of a video hyping future games. [U.S. Gamer]

• Pondering how Reid Cashman’s departure might affect the Capitals. Check this one out if you want to dive into the pool-o-analytics. [Japers’ Rink]

• Nikolay Goldobin bolting from the Canucks to the KHL represents one last departure for this post. There had been high hopes at times for Goldobin, but it didn’t work out. You could probably argue with Canucks fans on Twitter about Goldobin still, though. [Offside Vancouver]

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.

Keith Yandle seems very nonchalant about his iron man streak of 866 games

Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle discussed his “iron man streak” of 866 consecutive games played with Mike Tirico on “Lunch Talk Live.” And Yandle discussed the pain he’s gone through to maintain that streak in such a deadpan way, it was kind of funny, and can also add to the brimming binder titled “hockey players are tough.”

Maybe that’s simply necessary to play 866 games in a row in the modern NHL. Yandle’s mark, by the way, ranks fourth all-time in league history. To be fair, Yandle has some immediate competition among active players Patrick Marleau and Phil Kessel, though:

1. Doug Jarvis – 964
2. Garry Unger – 914
3. Steve Larmer – 884
4. Yandle – 866
5. Marleau – 854
6. Kessel – 844

(Andrew Cogliano’s seventh-ranked 830-game streak ended controversially with a suspension.)

It’s interesting to note how many modern players own some of the biggest streaks, as Jay Bouwmeester (737, ninth) and Henrik Sedin (679, 10th) saw their runs end recently.

Perhaps it’s a testament to modern conditioning and diet; Yandle noted to Alex Prewitt in 2018 that he also holds a distinction of not ordering room service on the road. In the cases of Sedin and Kessel, maybe you attribute some of that to style. Staying healthy doesn’t usually come down to being the “hitter” rather than receiving the brunt of the abuse. In many cases, it’s about avoiding contact altogether.

Yet, while Yandle plays more of a finesse style, his interview with Tirico reminds that it hasn’t always been easy.

Biggest threats to Yandle maintaining his iron man streak

Again, Yandle quite nonchalantly discussed some of the near-missed-games. (Maybe it’s that “Boston dry funny sense of humor?”)

Yandle faced arguably the biggest threat to his iron man streak this season, in November. The Panthers defenseman took a puck to the face during the first period of a Nov. 23, 2019 game against the Hurricanes. Despite losing multiple teeth, Yandle didn’t just keep his iron man streak alive, he actually returned during the game against Carolina.

During the interview with Tirico, Yandle’s expression rarely changed while discussing those agonizing events. Again, Yandle ranks among tough hockey players, whether his sometimes downright odd critics want to admit it or not.

Yandle went through hours of painful dental work, and still managed to complete a back-to-back set. Remarkable.

Also, back in December 2016, then-Panthers coach Tom Rowe expected Yandle to be out “a while” after what looked like a bad foot injury. In the Tirico interview, Yandle said an Aaron Ekblad shot “shattered” the back of his foot.

Naturally, “out for a while” meant not missing a single game.

It all makes me wonder: will Yandle’s streak eventually end as a “coach’s decision?”

The 33-year-old’s still an important piece of the Panthers’ puzzle. While he’s seen his ice time plummet over the years (24:29 TOI in 2017-18; 22:27 in 2018-19; 19:42 in 2019-20), Yandle remains prominent.

But with the Panthers struggling to support Sergei Bobrovsky — and/or struggling to justify the cost of Bob — might they decide that Yandle’s too much of a “double-edged sword?” Yandle’s puck movement, skating, and offensive acumen might make him a “net positive,” but the criticisms of his defense aren’t mere myths.

His Evolving Hockey RAPM chart from 2019-20 isn’t really out of line with Yandle’s usual work:

Could poor defense threaten Keith Yandle iron man streak
via Evolving Hockey

It’s never a popular move to sit someone who’s on a Ripken-of-hockey streak, but it’s a scenario worth considering, especially since Joel Quenneville has the political clout to make such a decision. Even if it’s probably ultimately unlikely, and painful.

You know, like returning to the same game when you got about 20 percent of your teeth knocked out by a puck.

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.