Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal between the New York Islanders and Carolina Hurricanes was won and lost on the power play.
And it was the Islanders who did the losing.
Early power-play goals by the Hurricanes in the first and second periods, paired with the Islanders going 0-for-4 on the man advantage, themselves, paved the way to a 2-1 series-opening loss in Raleigh.
Mustering just four shots across those eight minutes of power play time, the Islanders failed to sustain consistent pressure in the Hurricanes’ zone mostly because they couldn’t effectively gain entry cleanly. An aggressive Carolina defense bogged down play in the neutral zone and stacked the blue line to ensure that the likes of Mathew Barzal and Noah Dobson — two of the power play’s main facilitators — couldn’t carry it in to start their set-up.
“It came down a little bit to entries at times,” head coach Lane Lambert said. “They had a pretty good, hard stand. We got a little stubborn at times trying to bring the puck in.”
These struggles are nothing new for the Islanders. They ranked 30th in the NHL this season with a 15.77% conversion rate which included a 1-for-19 stretch to end the regular season. After Barzal went down for the remainder of the regular season on Feb. 18, New York’s power play went 6-for-57 (10.5%) across the final 24 games of the campaign.
Monday night at PNC Arena was Barzal’s first game back in two months and his presence alone did at least make the Islanders’ man advantage look a bit more imposing than it has. Anders Lee was set up with multiple chances in close during the Islanders’ first two power plays of the night, but couldn’t finish.
“[Barzal] has the ability to make something out of nothing. He brings a dynamic spot to our power play,” Lee said. “We’ll keep building on that. It was our first night back with him. We can be a little bit better on some of our break-ins and controlling the puck. They pressure extremely hard. When we beat that, we had some good looks. So we’ll take a look and adjust.”
The largest adjustment for Lambert’s men is to move the puck quicker as a way to counter Carolina’s aggressive defense.
“They don’t give you a lot of time and space. That’s their M.O.,” Lambert said. “They’re up on you so you have to move it quickly and transition quickly.”