The mark of a well-coached team is often in such concepts as defensive structure, process, effort, and positioning. Under coach Barry Trotz this season, there’s no doubt that the Islanders made strides in every one of these departments. A huge part of the improvement and turnaround is improved play by the bottom-six forward group.
Let’s get to know them a bit.
Anthony Beauvillier - Valtteri Filppula - Leo Komarov
This group has only played 132 minutes as a trio, the main pieces of the line have been Filppula and Komarov, who have played 512 minutes together this season.
Surprisingly enough, that duo has a low Corsi For (43.3 percent) and Scoring Chances For (42.9 percent) are very low. But they’ve been on ice for 21 Goals For to just eight Goals Against. The joy of great goaltending!
Filppula and Komarov were used in a huge defensive role with only 38.5 percent of the faceoffs in the offensive zone, but adding the skilled young offensive player Beauvillier has placed them more in an offensive role. Filpulla, in his first season with the Isles, scored 17 goals, his largest output since the 2013-14 season.
Player to watch: Beauvillier. The 21-year-old had 18 goals and 28 points this season. He also scored 21 times last year in the NHL. He’s got some slick hands and is certainly the most capable offensive player on this line.
Matt Martin - Casey Cizikias - Cal Clutterbuck
Oh gosh, this line is just annoying already, isn’t it? Martin and Cizikias were actually with NYI the last time they played the Pens in the playoffs back in 2013, and Clutterbuck joined the Isles the following season, so this is certainly a cohesive group that knows each other’s tendencies and how to play together.
This fourth line has played 498 minutes together this season, used in an extremely defensive role with just 33.9 percent of faceoffs starting the in offensive zone. Despite this, they have pretty respectable numbers in percentage (46.9 percent) and Scoring Chance percentage (47.9 percent) and their High Danger Scoring Chance numbers are downright impressive (58.8 percent).
This is also a line that will use it’s physicality. Martin’s 4.1 hits/game leads the team this year. Clutterbuck at 2.9 isn’t far behind. The Pens’ defensemen are going to have to move the puck quickly, as surely those guys will be looking to keep it simple, get pucks in deep, and then run down the Penguins and check them heavily and hard.
Player to watch: Cizikias. The center had a 20-goal season this year — he only scored 23 combined goals in the last three seasons combined! His 44 takeaways on the season also ranked third on the team. This is a player capable of battling and dispossessing pucks back for his line.
Extra depth: Tom Kuhnhackl
Old friend Kuhnhackl has been mostly an injury fill in for NYI this season, and if there’s any injuries going forward, he likely figures to slot back into the lineup.
The Islanders bottom-six has been propped up by excellent goaltending, but their fourth line has done a quietly good job of suppressing high danger chances and being able to generate (and finish!) some chances for themselves.
Up the middle, NYI looks like a strength with Filpulla-Cizikias as bottom-six centers, and there’s certainly no shortage of big bodies willing to be physical on the wings with Komarov, Martin, and Clutterbuck ready to get in on the forecheck and throw the body around.
The Isles are a team without a ton of top-end talent (only one scorer over 60 points this season), but their depth is impressive with a bunch of players capable of scoring 25-35 points in their bottom-six. Since anyone can chip in for small doses at any point, that will present an interesting challenge for Pittsburgh. This isn’t really a team with one good line or a top-six that they count on for all their production, NYI’s team identity is to be balanced, deep, work hard, and get contributions from all over the lineup.