Who the New York Islanders will need to ride on if they have plans of advancing to the second round for the first time in nearly two-and-a-half decades.
While the Florida Panthers shouldn’t be perceived as anything less than what the standings said they were this regular season, the Isles finished out their 2015-16 campaign strong and are far more physical than their first round foes.
Still, momentum and physicality won’t be enough to propell New York to round number two. They’ll need immense contributions from some of the most unlikely suspects: Josh Bailey, Marek Židlický and Alan Quine.
If these mediocre skaters produce, the Isles should be well on their way to a second-round matchup with either the Tampa Bay Lightning or Detroit Red Wings.
Let’s start with Josh Bailey. The 26-year-old had a dreary regular season, netting a mere 12 goals and 20 assists in 81 games.
He has struggled with game-to-game consistency, and has failed to crank up the intensity — especially late in games, where he’s made a habit of passing up shooting opportunities.
But if he can channel the 2013 version of himself (the Josh Bailey who was an absolute force in a series with the Pittsburgh Penguins), the Isles will be able to find the back-of-the-net much more frequently, something that bodes well for the old adage of “the goal of the game is to score more goals than the other team.”
Židlický, 39, has been much more effective as of late. A vet with loads of playoff experience, Jack Capuano needs him to continue to jump up into the play and battle along the boards.
He’s a major offensive threat when he joins the rush, and could potentially be potent on the power play as well. While he often makes poor decisions and has a knack for letting his lack of size plague him, he’s got enough offensive prowess to make up for that.
Quine, 23, may be expected to perform some of the same tasks as Anders Lee, who was lost for the playoffs after he suffered a leg injury courtesy of a Johnny Boychuk slapshot against the Rangers just last week.
What was evident in the minors was a modicum of grit and determination, something that bodes well for the playoffs. While he’s not much of an offensive threat, he did have a solid season in Bridgeport (19 points and 29 assists in 56 GP).
The playoffs is a different beast, one that will require a team to fully execute their plan in order to be successful.
In order for the Isles to make it past the first round, they’ll need to ride Bailey, Židlický and Quine.