The New York Islanders have had a wonderful journey so far in the 2016 playoffs. However, after a devastating 5-4 overtime loss at home to the Tampa Bay Lightning, their Stanley Cup dreams are looking bleak. Sure, the series is still a long way from over, but that’s the kind of game that changes the momentum and feel of the whole series. There are plenty of positives to take out of the series so far but that doesn’t mean anything at this point of the year. Moral victories don’t exist.
The series has been evenly matched to this point. Both teams play fast and physical which makes for some exciting hockey. The amount of penalties taken by both teams has been baffling though, and special teams very well could end up being the deal breaker as to who wins this series. Clearly the Islanders have to stay out of the box because Tampa’s power play is just too lethal to keep giving opportunities to. New York is going to have to be much more prolific on special teams because right now they look borderline comatose.
A lot has been made of coach Jack Capuano‘s lineup decisions especially the decision to once again bench Ryan Strome. For the most part Capuano’s moves have panned out, especially reinserting Josh Bailey back into the lineup for the aforementioned Strome. After Bailey missed the first 2 games of the series due to injury, many fans were hoping to see him stay out of the lineup after his abysmal first round play. But, Bailey made his coach look great by scoring 2 goals and playing one of his best games as an Islander.
My problem is with the decision to drop Ryan Strome for Brock Nelson. Nelson has looked sluggish out there and Strome has been producing points. This isn’t the first time Strome has been benched in these playoffs either. Last time he was benched the following games he played with more energy and more fire in his game which I’m sure is something Cappy is looking to reignite. The question still needs to be asked though, is benching a guy like Strome even worth it in the first place? It can be argued that Strome is the most offensively gifted talent on the team next to John Tavares, so is it really worth losing that for a game or two just to send a message at this point in the season? Yes, he might turnover the puck sometimes but so do a lot of talented players, look at Johnathan Drouin.
It’s only going to get tougher from here for Capuano. The toughest decisions he’s had to face yet as an NHL coach are just on the horizon. Will he find room in the lineup for Strome to play again? Will he bench the struggling Brock Nelson? One can even ask if their will be a change coming up on defense. Calvin De Haan and Johnny Boychuk have looked completely lost out there at times and I wouldn’t be completely shocked to see Andy Pelech replace De Haan in one of these games. Of course Ryan Pulock is expected to return soon as well so it isn’t completely out of the realm of possibility to see more than one defensive switch-up. Will Boychuk get the ax?
However, the biggest question of all will be what Jack does once Jaroslav Halak is healthy and ready to go. There’s no denying that Thomas Greiss has been fantastic for the Islanders in the playoff thus far, but over the past few games it seems as though his playoff magic may be coming to an end. He has had Jesus Greiss moments and he has had backup goalie moments so far in this series. It’s always a possibility Greiss comes out and pitches a few shutouts and then obviously there’s no question as to who will continue to play. But, if Greiss has another game or two where he’s giving up 3-4 goals or even a few “softies”, then it may be time for the real number 1 goalie to reclaim his spot. Halak came here to be the number 1 goalie and it’s going to be a huge decision on the plate of Capuano.
There’s still a ton of hockey left to play in this series there’s no question about that. It will be intriguing to see what Capuano decides to do moving forward with all of these potential question marks surrounding the lineup. Let’s just hope his luck hasn’t run out quite yet.