Oliver Wahlstrom

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.

Biggest surprises, disappointments for 2019-20 Islanders

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the surprises and disappointments for the New York Islanders.

Islanders carry over surprises from 2018-19 for a hot start

To be honest, I expected the Islanders to be scrappy this season, but to narrowly miss the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Through late November, that prediction looked as inaccurate as those who expected the Islanders to dwell in the cellar after John Tavares left during the summer of 2018.

Even factoring in Barry Trotz’s outstanding defensive acumen, it’s simply asking a lot for goalies to match what Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner pulled off in 2018-19. Yet, the Islanders combined more great goaltending (this time from Greiss and Semyon Varlamov) and timely scoring to start 2019-20 as one of the NHL’s hottest surprises.

It’s telling that the Islanders briefly topped PHT’s Power Rankings with their 16-3-1 record as of Nov. 21.

By compiling a franchise-record 16-game point streak, one wondered how high the Islanders might soar.

Betting on Varlamov (.920 save percentage through Dec. 31) over Lehner looked better than some figured. Meanwhile, Greiss continued his Trotz-era Renaissance (.919 save percentage during the same frame). The Islanders seemed poised to show that their way worked, and to an elite degree.

Islanders stumble as time goes on

However, you could argue that the Islanders couldn’t always walk what often felt like an all-defense tightrope. That high-wire act began to unravel, particularly from mid-January and on.

You can see that slippage in the big, shining neon light that was a seven-game losing streak entering the pause. But, really, the Islanders’ slide extended back a couple of months. If you want to hammer home disappointments for Islanders fans, you can’t get much more dramatic than “opening the door for the Rangers.”

That’s all disappointing, especially since the Islanders made some fairly aggressive trades (for Andy Greene and J.G. Pageau) to improve and patch up injuries. Your level of surprise likely revolves around how sustainable you thought the Islanders’ successes really were.

Looking at certain stats, it’s clear the luck swung violently the other way.

Via Natural Stat Trick, the Islanders tied with those hated Rangers for the fourth-highest PDO (save percentage + shooting percentage, a decent proxy for luck) of 102 through Dec. 31. Looking at 2020 alone, the Islanders ranked sixth-lowest with a 98.5 mark.

A higher-scoring team might have been able to weather slippage from Varlamov (.908 save percentage since Jan. 1) and Greiss (.901 during that span), but the Islanders struggled.

Surprises and disappointments for Islanders on offense

Modest offense from the Islanders shouldn’t rank among surprises, but the team not finding ways to inject more offense could be seen as one of their disappointments.

Considering how stringent the Islanders’ system is, Mathew Barzal leading the team with 60 points is understandable. It feels a bit wrong for a player that talented, but a lot is being asked of Barzal and a few others.

That said, the Islanders made things work — enough — thanks to nice scoring by committee.

Beyond some continued strong play from Anders Lee and Brock Nelson, the Islanders also made a smart, low-risk gamble on Derick Brassard. The oft-traded forward ranked eighth in team scoring with 32 points. That’s pretty nifty stuff from a $1.2 million investment.

The Islanders have to hope that they see solid growth in Noah Dobson and Oliver Wahlstrom like they did in Anthony Beauvillier this season.

Overall, I’d say that the pleasant surprises outweighed the disappointments for the Islanders in 2019-20. Of course, we’ll have to see if play resumes to learn what other twists and turns were coming.

MORE ON THE ISLANDERS:

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 on Ho-Sang returning to organization: ‘It’s in his hands’

Joshua Ho-Sang AHL
Getty Images

The New York Islanders confirmed what Joshua Ho-Sang announced via, um, Eminem: Ho-Sang is back with the organization.

Granted, a return to the Islanders isn’t guaranteed, if Ho-Sang manages it at all in 2019-20. Instead, Ho-Sang is reporting to the Islanders’ lowly AHL affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

Regardless, Ho-Sang announced his hockey return with style:

View this post on Instagram

Time to play hockey 🙊

A post shared by josh ho-sang (@66jhosang) on

 

Mutual benefits

While the Islanders boast a mighty 22-7-2 record, Bridgeport ranks as one of the worst teams in the AHL and its lowest-scoring squad.

This sets up a situation where all parties could gain if things go well, as The Athletic’s Arthur Staples explains (sub required). Bridgeport could use the scoring and the parent club might benefit from some injury insulation. Meanwhile, Ho-Sang must prove himself to revive his professional hockey career.

“It’s in his hands”

The Islanders make it sound like the world is Ho-Sang’s oyster, although some might read a bit of a … parental tone into GM Lou Lamoriello’s remarks.

“He just has to go there and do what he has to do as a player and conform to the environment and they’ll be no issues,” Lamoriello said Tuesday, via the team website.

“He was the last cut going down to the American league, so he did have a good training camp. Where he’s at right now physically and mentally, we’ll just have to wait and see. But from our end of it, he’ll have a clean slate. It’s in his hands.”

Barry Trotz implies that it might take some time before Ho-Sang changes minds.

“Right now, he’s got to get back and get back playing before he’s even an option for me,” Trotz said.

So, it’s good that the Islanders are saying the right things. Don’t blame Ho-Sang and others for remaining frustrated, though.

The case for Ho-Sang as an NHL player

Certainly, from here, it’s maddening to see the 23-year-old fail to make a full-time NHL impact.

Seemingly from the moment he was drafted 28th overall by the Islanders in 2014, Ho-Sang became a polarizing presence. While Ho-Sang made missteps along the way, particularly being late to training camp in 2015, he’s argued for his presence with blinding skill.

For quite some time, the answer seemed to be that maybe Ho-Sang should simply be playing for a different NHL team. Instead, the situation’s dragged on and on. Honestly, you could argue we’ve been waiting for some closure since Garth Snow was Islanders GM.

The rest of the NHL absorbs some of the blame, mind you. Ho-Sang passing through waivers right before the season began still leaves me scratching my head, honestly.

No, Ho-Sang isn’t perfect, but it’s hard to believe that he isn’t good enough to land a spot as one of 12 starting forwards on one of the NHL’s 31 teams.

Just about every objective sign, including this heat map from Hockey Viz, argues that Ho-Sang could benefit plenty of teams. Frankly, his defensive flaws might also be exaggerated:

Ho-Sang ultimately asked for a trade after barely failing to make the team out of training camp. The Islanders failed to “consummate” a trade, and Ho-Sang left the Islanders organization altogether since Oct. 1 … until now.

The Sound Tigers play their next game on Wednesday, but it’s unclear if Ho-Sang will be ready. Eventually, we’ll see if Ho-Sang runs with this opportunity, though — assuming the slate is truly clean.

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: Stars to retire Zubov’s number; NHL hydration techniques

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

• No Dallas Star will ever wear No. 56 again as the team announced they will retire Sergei Zubov’s number sometime next season. [Stars]

• The Blues have signed Jamie McGinn and Troy Brouwer to tryout contracts to see if they can wait on calling up prospects. [Post-Dispatch]

Connor Hellebuyck is carrying a large load for the Jets this season. [TSN]

Patrick Kane is scoring and that’s a much-needed boost for the Blackhawks. [NBC Sports Chicago]

• Looking for reasons why the Lightning offense is off to a slow start? Start with their stars. [Raw Charge]

• How Sidney Crosby reshaped the NHL in his image. [Sportsnet]

• If the Sabres are looking to add a forward, they should start with Tyler Toffoli of the Kings. [Die by the Blade]

• Interesting look at the various hydration techniques of NHL players. [Boston Herald]

• It doesn’t look promising for the Blue Jackets’ chances of turning around their slow start. [Yahoo]

• What Zdeno Chara, Jay Bouwmeester and 1,500 games tells us about longevity and the Hockey Hall of Fame. [The Hockey News]

• Rico Phillips’ life has changed since he was named winner of the 2019 Willie O’Ree Award. [NHL.com]

• Barry Trotz is ready to see what’s next with Oliver Wahlstrom. [Islanders Insight]

• Finally, there were a trio of beautiful goals over the last few days outside of the NHL. First up, Jayden Davis of the SJHL’s Estevan Bruins with some magic:

Next, Adrian College’s Dean Balsamo spins and spins and scores:

Finally, Mike Sgarbossa of the Hershey Bears gets elected as Mayor of Dangle City:

————

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.

Looks like Kirby Dach is sticking with Blackhawks

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It looks like the top three picks of the 2019 NHL Draft will also play through at least the 10-game deadline that burns a year off of their entry-level contracts.

In the case of Jack Hughes (first pick, nine games played with the New Jersey Devils, little reason to expect anything but a full season barring injuries) and Kaapo Kakko (second pick, already 10 games played with the New York Rangers), this was all quite expected.

Third overall pick Kirby Dach, however? Now he was a wild card.

The Chicago Blackhawks decided to end any will-he-stay-or-will-he-go drama on Wednesday, stating that Dach will stay at the NHL level for the “foreseeable future.” The team’s official website uses the phrase “for the duration of the season,” if foreseeable future was too vague.

“Stan [Bowman] and I sat with him yesterday and told him he’s going to be here,” Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton said on Wednesday. “He’s played well. He’s shown he can help us and he’s only going to get better. I think the player he is now, there’s likely going to be a huge improvement as the year goes on and the player (he is) in February I’m sure is going to be an impact player for us.”

It’s an interesting choice.

Dach, 18, has scored one goal and one assist through six games. That last matter is part of what makes this interesting: the Blackhawks saw enough in six games to make this announcement, when they could have taken some more time before that 10-game cutoff.

On one hand, Dach is acquitting himself quite well. His possession stats are pretty promising, which is heartening even with the sort of cushy deployment (about two-thirds of his shifts start in the offensive zone, via Hockey Reference) you’d expect from a rookie jumping right from the draft to the big time.

On the other hand, Dach is getting fairly modest ice time at just under 12 minutes (11:59) per game. For some perspective, the only players with lower TOI average for Chicago are Zach Smith (9:47) and Brendan Perlini (7:49), the latter of whom was traded.

Would hit-or-miss ice time, even as a nominal third-liner, be the best course for Dach’s development? That’s debatable, especially since Dach could either see more time as he matures, or less time if he falls into the doghouse that many rookies find themselves in, for reasons that range from fair to arbitrary.

(NHL coaches are notorious for giving rookies and young players short leashes, even if veteran replacements are clearly more limited.)

The Blackhawks are at least somewhat focused on the present, rather than going on a conscious tank, so there are other ways to look at Dach: he’s a competent asset already, seemingly, and at the dirt-cheap price of an entry-level deal.

Is it the best way to manage this asset, both from the perspective of developing Dach and also taking the best advantage of those entry-level years? Personally, I’m skeptical, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Either way, it’s an impressive jump from the towering center.

***

With the help of Cap Friendly’s handy entry-level slides listings, here are a few other 10-game deadline situations to ponder:

  • Jack Hughes, nine games played: Check that box.
  • Ville Heinola, eight GP: The 20th pick of 2019 has made a nice impression with the Winnipeg Jets, but there are rumblings that his days are numbered. David Gustafsson is a Jets forward with six games played who may also be worth monitoring.
  • Joel Farabee, five GP: The Flyers forward’s apparently had some bad luck early on.

It’s tough to tell if the Flyers are leaning one way or the other with Farabee, who has an assist in his first five games, and has been getting decent ice time.

  • Oliver Wahlstrom, five GP; Noah Dobson, three GP: These two intriguing Islanders are probably (like Farabee) a little early to be judged one way or another. Then again, the Blackhawks made that call with Dach just six games in, so we’ll see.
  • Barrett Hayton, four GP: With three points in his first four NHL games, it would be surprising if the Coyotes weren’t looking for every excuse to keep him at this level, especially since Arizona could use that extra skill and creativity.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV 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.