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The New York Islanders and Florida Panthers both would have missed the playoffs had we done things the traditional way, but as we’ve come to find out, nothing about 2020 has been traditional. With the NHL returning to a modified format, these two Eastern Conference foes will square off in a best-of-five series where the winner will qualify for the postseason. The Islanders are a small favorite here, but are they the right bet? Let’s take a closer look.
Florida Panthers vs New York Islanders
Odds: Panthers -102, Islanders -120 at FanDuel Sportsbook
The Panthers have been a bit of conundrum in the 2019-20 season. At times, they’ve looked like they could be a serious force in the Eastern Conference. At other times, they’ve looked like one of the worst teams. The case and point would be that the Panthers were 28-16-5 at one point. Since then, though, they have just seven wins in 20 games. While their offense has been pretty solid this season – their 3.30 goals per game ranks sixth in the NHL – it’s their play at the other end that’s been inconsistent. That mostly falls on goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who is not playing like the elite goaltender he once used to be. The two-time Vezina Trophy winner’s save percentage has decreased since he won his last Vezina in 2017. That year, he had a .931 save percentage. He then dropped to .921, .913 last season and is now at merely .900 this season.
If the Panthers are to have any shot here, Bobrovsky – and the blue line in front of him – has to really step up.
What are we to make of the Islanders? This is a team that opened a lot of eyes last postseason when they swept the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round. Then they started the 2019-20 season like they were shot out of a cannon, winning 16 of their first 20 games. They looked like one of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference. So what happened to this team for them to get to the point that they wouldn’t have even made the playoffs if we went by the current standings?
The Isles entered the pause in the midst of a hideous stretch of hockey, winning just two of their final 13 games. Their offense was paltry down the stretch, scoring just 2.58 goals per game since the All-Star break, which ranked them 26th in the NHL. Also, their defense turned sour as the team that ranked sixth in the NHL with 2.65 goals per game allowed before the All-Star break allowed was 10th-worst after it, giving up 3.16.
The main question here is did the break help them reset and get back to where they need to be?
Taking a final look at this series, it’s pretty much a matchup of teams that mirror each other. Both teams started the season well and then tanked before the break. However, I give the Islanders an edge here for one under-the-radar reason: they were active at the now-forgotten trade deadline.
While the Panthers bizarrely traded away Vincent Trocheck, the Islanders added a nice piece in Jean-Gabriel Pageau and then signed him to a long-term extension. The Isles also added defenseman Andy Greene. With Pageau, he should give the offense a boost and that’s what this team needs. Normally, adding a piece to the puzzle midseason is challenging in terms of team chemistry but now they’ll have some extra time to infuse him.
These two teams met three times in the regular season and the Islanders won all three times. While the Panthers are an offense-oriented team and the Islanders rely on defense, it was the Isles who dictated the pace. The Panthers average 3.30 goals per game on the season but scored a total of four goals in three meetings with the Isles.
The other factor here is that the Isles have more playoff experience. They had a nice run last year and probably learned some things from it. A full reset should help them get back on track after a really ugly stretch before the break. I lean with them to win what should be a tight series.