Well, here it is! The Florida Panthers vs. New York Islanders playoff series that we’ve all been anticipating and gushing over for years!
In one corner, we have the Panthers from Sunrise, Florida, making their fifth playoff appearance in franchise history and their first since 2012. Thanks to excellent play from Roberto Luongo and the ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr, the Panthers had their most successful season in franchise history, and are looking to go on their first major playoff run since they clawed their way to the Cup Final back in 1996. In the other corner, we have the Islanders from Brooklyn, who are looking to do better than they did last year when they lost to the Washington Capitals in seven games. The Islanders haven’t won a playoff series since 1993, so regardless of what happens here, somebody’s slump is going to be busted.
The Panthers and Islanders met up three times this season. One of them was a blowout with the 5-1 score going to the team that didn’t deserve it, and in the other two games, they were evenly matched, battled neck and neck, and ultimately exchanged 3-2 victories. So overall I would call it a tight season series in which neither team completely owned the other.
The first Islanders and Panthers meeting came back on Nov. 27 in Sunrise. The Panthers grabbed a to goal lead by the end of the second period, but the Islanders scored two goals of their own to start the third period to tie it up. They ended up going to a shootout, and every single shooter scored until Brock Nelson was stopped by Roberto Luongo in the fifth round.
They met again on Dec. 15 in New York in what was a pretty bizarre game. The Islanders pummelled Florida in every aspect of the game, which is made evident by the fact that nobody on the Panthers had a Corsi For percentage over 50 per cent. But despite being doubled in shots, the Panthers made a fool out of Jaroslav Halak, scoring four goals on him on just 16 shots.
The season series wrapped up on March 14 in New York with the Islanders edging out a 3-2 win to save themselves from being swept. Like the first meeting, this one was tight, with the Islanders outshooting Florida 28 to 25, and neither team dominating the possession game.
So like I said, neither team really owned the other in this series. They each earned a 3-2 in tight games, and then the Panthers grabbed a win they probably didn’t deserve. Let’s call it even.
The Islanders definitely appear to have the edge in this series when it comes to special teams. The Panthers are below average on both the power play and penalty kill, as their 16.91 per cent power play and 79.48 per cent penalty kill efficiency each rank in the bottom third of the league. The Islanders, on the other hand, boast an elite penalty kill that operates at a 84.48 per cent efficiency, and a decent power play, that’s right above league average at 18.78 per cent.
That said, one of New York’s best offensive weapons, Anders Lee, is going to miss the series due to a leg injury, which is a major shot to the team’s power play. Instead of having Lee alongside John Tavares and Kyle Okposo on the top unit, they’re going to promote somebody like Brock Nelson or Josh Bailey to prime power play time.
Regardless, even if the Islanders’ power play suffers from not having Lee on the top unit, they still have an excellent penalty kill with a whole boatload of different options to use. And judging by how mediocre Florida’s power play is, the numbers suggest that New York won’t have a difficult time shutting them down. If that’s the case, this series is probably going to come down to play at even strength, as neither team’s power play is going to give them an edge.
When you look at production, it appears that the Panthers have a massive edge over the Islanders at even strength.
Florida is the league’s best team in terms of production at even strength, as their 56.2 Goals For percentage is unmatched by anybody else. They’re tied with Washington for goals for per hour at even strength with 2.47, and they’re behind only St. Louis and Los Angeles for goals against per hour at even strength with 1.92.
The Islanders certainly aren’t slouches, as their 51.5 Goals For percentage is in the top third of the league, but their ability to score and keep out the puck at even strength is completely dwarfed by what Florida accomplished this season.
But wait, not so fast. While the Panthers have the league’s best goals for percentage, they’re also riding a ridiculously high PDO. Their 8.84 team shooting percentage is second highest in the league, and their 93.28 team save percentage is lower than only the Flyers and the Rangers at even strength. While Jaromir Jagr, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Aleksander Barkov, Florida’s main sources of production, are scoring at a high level, they’re also relying on a very, very high shooting percentage, which is never a good sign.
When you break it down a little further, the Islanders and Panthers are virtually identical in terms of their underlying numbers. They’re both middle of the pack teams in terms of Corsi and Fenwick percentages, and, on average, they both spent the year getting slightly outshot by their opponents. So while it looks like Florida is the vastly superior team at even strength, these two teams, yet again, are equal.
If there’s one area where one of these two teams has a clear advantage over the other, it’s goaltending.
Thomas Greiss has had an excellent season for the Islanders this year, posting a career-high 0.933 save percentage in 41 games, which has been huge considering Jaroslav Halak’s injury, but he isn’t Roberto Luongo. The Panthers allow Luongo to be peppered with a high volume of shots and high quality chances against, but he answers the task. Hi 0.922 save percentage is solid, and in line with his career average, but his 93.46 adjusted save percentage is elite, as he’s ranked third in the league behind only Steve Mason and Henrik Lundqvist.
Also, Greiss has virtually zero playoff experience. The only time he’s appeared in a playoff game was back in 2010 when Evgeni Nabokov was pulled after giving up five goals in the first period. Luongo, as we know, is a grizzled playoff veteran. While he hasn’t won a playoff game since the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, he’s played in 64 different playoff games in his career, so this is nothing new for him.
Even after Luongo, the Panthers have a solid backup plan in Al Montoya, who’s had one of the best seasons of his career working in relief of Luongo, posting a 0.919 save percentage. On the other side, thanks to Halak’s injury will keep him out of this series, so the Islanders, if they need somebody else, are going to have to use a fresh rookie like J-F Berube or Christopher Gibson.
The Panthers definitely have the edge here.
|Thursday April 14th||Islanders @ Panthers||8:00 PM EST|
|Friday April 15th||Islanders @ Panthers||7:30 PM EST|
|Sunday April 17th||Panthers @ Islanders||8:00 PM EST|
|Wednesday April 20th||Panters @ Islanders||8:00 PM EST|
|Friday April 22nd||Islanders @ Panthers||TBD|
|Sunday April 24th||Panthers @ Islanders||TBD|
|Tuesday April 26th||Islanders @ Panters||TBD|
Overall, this is a very evenly matched series. Both teams boast some star power up front, a decent defensive core, and some solid depth, and in only one category does one team jump out over the other. And that’ll probably end up being the difference in the series. Having Roberto Luongo in net rather than somebody with zero playoff experience is huge for the Panthers, and as a result, I figure they’ll win this thing in seven games.