I’ll be honest, it would have been pretty cool to see a Battle of Florida series between the Panthers and Lightning for the first time ever, but I’m not going to complain about this one. The Islanders knocked off the Panthers in six games in a very, very tight series in which all of the games were decided by one goal (save for one with an empty netter) and three of them went to overtime. It was their first playoff series win since 1993, so this is some pretty unfamiliar territory for the Islanders. On the other hand, the Lightning hammered the Red Wings for the second year in a row, tossing them and their 25-year playoff streak aside in five games.
The Islanders and Lightning played each other three times this season, with one game coming all the way back in late November, and the other two coming more recently in the last stretch of the season. I’m not really a big fan of using games played five months ago to create an accurate representation of how either teams play or how they stack up against each other, so I’ll mainly focus on the two games that happened recently.
On March 25, the Islanders and Lightning met in Tampa Bay for a game in which they decided to entertain the fans by completely tossing the idea of playing defence out the window. Tampa Bay won the game 7-4, scoring six goals on Thomas Greiss and one on an empty net. That said, it’s not even like Greiss was that bad in this one. I mean, obviously he wasn’t great, but allowing six goals when facing 41 shots doesn’t indicate this loss being pinned on him being bad. Despite allowing their goalie to be peppered all night, the Islanders still managed to throw 31 shots at Ben Bishop, which is pretty incredible.
A little over a week later, On April 4, the Islanders hosted the Lightning in Brooklyn and had a much better result, grabbing a 5-2 win. The shots in this one were pretty close, with the Lightning throwing 34 at Greiss, and the Islanders getting 36 on Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy. I think you can guess what happened here. Bishop was pretty terrible in this game, allowing all five of the team’s goals on just 23 shots through two periods. Vasilevskiy was solid in relief, though, stopping all 13 shots that came his way in the third period.
What can we garner from these two games? I don’t think we can say that either team really had the other team’s number, but we can predict that this is going to be a highly offensive series. In both of the two recent games the Lightning and Islanders have played, there has been at least 70 shots on goal combined between the two teams.
In terms of possession numbers at even strength, the Lightning are quite a bit better than the Islanders. They both generate offence at a similar level, as their Corsi For per hour are each in the top half of the league at 55.7 and 54.9 respectively, but suppressing the other team’s ability to generate offence is where Tampa Bay really has New York beat. The Lightning allow just 51.0 shot attempts against per hour, which is seventh best in the league, while the Islanders allow 56.0 shot attempts against per hour, putting them in the bottom third of the league with company like Columbus and Vancouver.
The two teams have virtually identical PDO numbers, at 100.8 and 100.7, with a slight edge going to Tampa Bay in team save percentage, and an edge going to New York in team shooting percentage. So as you might expect, judging by their identical PDOs and how their possession numbers stack up, the Lightning are slightly better in production, as they boast a 54.0 Goals For percentage in comparison to New York’s 51.5.
Tampa Bay produces 2.31 goals for per hour at even strength, and the Islanders produce 2.30 themselves, so there isn’t much of a difference here at all. Where Tampa Bay pulls ahead of New York, such has been the common theme here, is the ability to stop the other team from scoring. The Lightning allowed just 1.96 goals against per hour, while the Islanders were in the bottom half of the league, allowing 2.17 goals against per hour themselves.
So while these two teams produce offence at a similar level, both in terms of generating shot attempts and actually scoring goals, the Lightning are much better at suppressing the other team’s ability to do the same, which gives them a pretty decent edge in overall production percentage.
Usually you can kind of throw a team’s special teams numbers out the window when the playoffs roll around. Obviously an excellent power play or a dominant penalty kill can still be of value in a playoff series, but as we all know, the refs swallow their whistles when things start to get really intense, so there’s a very good chance that neither will actually have the opportunity to shine.
Anyways, special teams really shouldn’t be much of a deal here. The Islanders have a league average power play, operating at 18.8 per cent efficiency, while the Lightning, surprisingly, have a terrible power play that only scores 15.8 per cent of the time. On the other side of that coin, both teams are excellent on the penalty kill. So if fewer penalties are called in the playoffs, both teams are pretty forgettable on the power play, and both teams are very good on the penalty kill, that pretty clearly adds up to special teams not being much of a factor in this series.
The biggest question mark heading into the playoffs for the Islanders was easily their goaltender, Thomas Greiss. He had an excellent season, there’s no doubt about that, but before this year, he had only made one appearance in the playoffs in his career. Those doubts were definitely silenced against the Florida Panthers, though. Greiss stood on his head for the Islanders, stopping 221 of the 234 shots he faced, good enough for a 0.944 save percentage.
Of course, Tampa Bay certainly doesn’t have a disadvantage here either. Ben Bishop, for as shaky as he can be at times, has carried his excellent play this season into the playoffs. The Vezina Trophy candidate posted a 0.950 save percentage, stopping 152 of 160 shots thrown at him in five games by the Detroit Red Wings in the first round. Also, the Lightning have a much stronger backup plan in Andrei Vasilevskiy than the Islanders do in J-F Berube.
The margin isn’t huge, but I would give Tampa Bay the edge in goaltending in this series.
This is going to be a fun series to watch. Both of these teams generate shot attempts and scoring chances at a high level, and as we’ve seen in their head-to-head matchups this year, there’s bound to be some fireworks. Both teams also has strong goaltending, so we could see some low scoring games with high flying opportunities, which is always a treat to watch.
While it certainly isn’t a blow out, the underlying numbers favour Tampa Bay in pretty much every meaningful category, so I’ll have to take the Lightning in seven games.