John Tavares is doing everything he can to get the Islanders an edge in their first-round series with the Panthers, which resumes in Barclays Center for Game 3 on Sunday.
Now it’s time for the rest of the Islanders to follow the captain’s lead.
Tavares scored his second goal and fourth point in two games in Friday’s 3-1 loss to the Panthers in Sunrise, a game in which Tavares’ team played far better than it did in Game 1 but fared worse in the final result thanks in large part to Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo, who made 41 saves.
But it was also due to the lack of production from the other three Islanders forward lines as well as the defense. The Nikolay Kulemin-Brock Nelson-Josh Bailey line struggled, on the ice for four of Florida’s six goals against Thomas Greiss in the first two games before Jack Capuano juggled some of his lines down 2-0 midway through Game 2.
“You can say those guys have struggled, but it’s the play before the play that happens, too. I’m looking more from an offensive standpoint, those guys aren’t generating much,” Capuano said after the Islanders held team meetings at IceWorks on Saturday. “We’ve got to get our secondary scoring, not just from the forwards, we’ve got to get our D involved and play a fast game.”
The Isles’ six defensemen have combined for just 13 total shots on goal through two games and only three assists, with one of those a primary assist, Nick Leddy’s setup for Tavares late in Game 2.
Tavares, Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo have been a formidable line and Capuano is loath to split them up in a search for more offense from the rest of his forwards.
The secondary scoring issues are magnified when the Panthers’ top line of Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov and Jaromir Jagr hasn’t produced a goal yet despite numerous chances and it’s Florida’s second line of Reilly Smith, Nick Bjugstad and Jussi Jokinen that’s done the heavy damage.
“Offensively and defensively they’re our top line and we need other guys to pick it up,” Capuano said. “We can’t change that line right now to get other guys going. We need those other guys to get going, they know that. We’ll think about it, don’t think they’re going to change their top six over there, have to make sure some of our guys are a little more responsible when they’re on the ice.”
With the first-ever playoff game in Brooklyn on deck Sunday, the Islanders also get the last line change, which means they can adjust their defense pairs and lines to get better matchups. Even with favorable opposition, veterans like Bailey (no points, minus-4) need to give more.
Bailey and Nelson were two of the players Capuano singled out two weeks ago and the coach wasn’t looking to light another fire under Bailey on Saturday.
“We’ve talked, he’s frustrated with his game,” Capuano said. “I only know one way to get out of it and that’s not to worry about anything else and to work. Have to be a relentless player, win your shift every time you’re on the ice. You do that as an individual, you make our team better.”
At the very least it should be easy to follow the captain’s lead.
“It should be, when you see your captain and the way he picks up his game, the way he picks up his compete level, I think it is contagious for the room,” Okposo said.