NHL.com is looking ahead to the Stanley Cup Qualifiers by examining five of the biggest questions facing each of the 24 remaining teams. Today, we look at the New York Islanders.
The New York Islanders were 35-23-10 (.588 points percentage) and will enter the Stanley Cup Qualifiers as the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference. They will play the No. 10 seed, the Florida Panthers (35-26-8, .565 points percentage), in one of eight best-of-5 series. The qualifiers will start Aug. 1 at a site to be determined.
Here are 5 key questions facing the Islanders:
1. Is everybody healthy?
The Islanders were expected to have center Casey Cizikas (leg) and defenseman Johnny Boychuk (eye) back shortly after the NHL season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus, and Boychuk said June 10 he is fully recovered. General manager Lou Lamoriello recently deemed defenseman Adam Pelech (Achilles) healthy, and it's expected he'll be reunited with defenseman Ryan Pulock. Pelech was second on New York in average ice time (21:08) before he was injured prior to a 2-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Jan. 2.
Video: WSH@NYI: Cizikas redirects Beauvillier pass into net
2. Who will be the starting goalie?
Semyon Varlamov and Thomas Greiss alternated starts for the first 33 games before Varlamov began to seize the No. 1 job. He will likely start Game 1, but if he falters, Islanders coach Barry Trotz could turn to Greiss. Varlamov (.914 save percentage) and Greiss (.913) had similar statistics, and Greiss -- with Robin Lehner -- helped New York win the William M. Jennings Trophy last season after it allowed an NHL-low 191 goals during the regular season. Greiss had a .944 save percentage for the Islanders when they defeated the Panthers in six games in the 2016 Eastern Conference First Round. Varlamov hasn't played in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2014 with the Colorado Avalanche.
Video: COL@NYI: Varlamov shuts out Avalanche
3. Will the power play contribute?
New York struggled this season and was tied with the Nashville Predators for 24th in the NHL at 17.3 percent. Perhaps the Islanders will benefit from going against the Panthers penalty kill, which was 20th in the NHL at 78.5 percent, but New York need more production from its top offensive players; three reached double figures in power-play points, led by center Mathew Barzal, who scored 12. No Islanders player scored more than four power-play goals (Barzal, Brock Nelson, Jordan Eberle), and forward Anders Lee, who scored 24 power-play goals the previous two seasons, scored twice in 68 games.
Video: NYI@FLA: Barzal scores PPG off feed from Eberle
4. Will Noah Dobson get a chance to play?
Dobson showed glimpses of being the defenseman the Islanders envisioned when they selected him in the first round (No. 12) of the 2018 NHL Draft, particularly in the final three games before the pause after Boychuk was injured on March 3. Trotz said the 20-year-old had closed the gap on the veteran defensemen and would be considered for playing time even with a fully healthy lineup. It wouldn't be surprising to see Pulock, Scott Mayfield and Boychuk as New York's three right-shot defensemen in Game 1, but Dobson could play at some point during the series.
Video: DET@NYI: Dobson scores first career NHL goal
5. Can they play to their identity?
The Islanders finished second in the Metropolitan Division last season and were successful for much of the first half this season because of their ability to roll four lines and keep the puck out of their net. But they tried to play more of an offensive style in too many games during the second half and were 0-3-4 in their final seven games while allowing 28 goals. New York should benefit from being fully healthy and will finally get to have Cizikas and Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who was acquired in a trade with the Ottawa Senators on Feb. 24. in the lineup at the same time, which should make it much deeper at center. Here's a statistic to consider: Since Trotz became Islanders coach prior to last season, they are 67-5-7 when they score at least three goals.
Video: NYI@STL: Pageau nets Barzal one-timer for PPG