RALEIGH, N.C. — If you ever wondered why Lou Lamoriello joined the trade-deadline hunt for Mark Stone and Matt Duchene before the high-octane talents went to Vegas and Columbus, respectively, simply check out the rows of zeroes under the goal-scoring column of this Round 2 against the Hurricanes.
None for Jordan Eberle, who scored in each game of the sweep of Pittsburgh. None for Brock Nelson, who got three against the Penguins. None for Anders Lee, who put in one in the first round.
We know what the Islanders did to get here. No, not to arrive at the precipice down 3-0 entering Friday’s Game 4, but rather to record 103 points, make the playoffs when that seemed a lunatic’s pipe dream in September, and outclass the Penguins.
They did it by relentlessly committing to coach Barry Trotz’s sound defensive precepts, by getting superior goaltending from the Robin Lehner-Thomas Greiss tandem and by sprinkling in enough production to turn 82 games of grind into a reward.
Now, though, they’re up against an opponent that grinds equally well, plays both sides of the puck with equal dedication, has gotten equally strong goaltending and has been the more opportunistic squad in the critical moments of Games 1, 2 and 3. In other words, all of them.
Other than that, it’s been a ball for the Islanders, with party hats, noise-makers and everything.
There comes a time in the playoffs when talent must emerge, when sheer guts, work effort and character just don’t add to quite enough because the other guys also own those essential qualities. If they didn’t they wouldn’t be one of the final eight teams standing. So more is needed from the Islanders’ top guns.
When you’re having trouble scoring, when you’re down by one and pull the goaltender for the extra attacker, wouldn’t you want the guys who have the slickest hands on the ice? Wouldn’t, in this case, you expect to see Eberle out there as part of the six-on-five unit?
You probably would.
But you would be wrong.
On Sunday in Brooklyn in the 2-1 Game 2 defeat, Eberle did not get on for the final 3:22 while Trotz went with Josh Bailey (whose Game 3 snipe represents his team’s only five-on-five goal of the series), Mat Barzal, Lee, Nelson, Devon Toews and Ryan Pulock. Indeed, Eberle got only two shifts worth 1:59 over the final 9:15.
Then on Wednesday in the 5-2 Game 3 defeat in which Carolina scored a pair of empty-netters, Eberle once again was on the bench when Trotz summoned Lehner to go with the extra attacker. Again it was Bailey, Barzal, Lee, Nelson, Toews and Pulock. On this night, Eberle took two shifts worth 2:02 over the final 9:51.
Apparently not to Eberle, though.
“We’ve got two six-on-five units and I play on the other one,” the 28-year-old impending free-agent winger told The Post. “I don’t think it has anything to do with the coach being unhappy with the way I’m playing. That’s the way we set it up.
“I have full faith in the guys who are on the ice.”
Wait a minute. How often are teams able to change skating six-on-five, much less a full unit? It is essentially pure chaos out there in the final minute-plus, guys jamming the net, throwing pucks toward the front, desperately attempting to create outnumbered situations. It is not a power play that can be conducted.
But all right, if that’s the way coach-of-the-year nominee Trotz and the Islanders have done it throughout the season. So the second unit during the season was … well, not only was there no second unit that got a consequential amount of time, guess who was on the first unit?
Why, that was Mr. Eberle, who got the sixth-most ice time (19:01) behind Barzal (31:34), Lee (24:28), Bailey (23:12), Pulock (21:42) and Nick Leddy (19:01) during the regular season, according to Naturalstattrick.com. So, for the playoffs, Leddy and Eberle are out — er, on the second unit — while supplanted by Nelson and Toews.
Eberle may not be everyone’s cup of tea. He represents kind of an incongruity on the Islanders, a smoothie on a team that wants to play relentlessly with a jagged edge. He generally doesn’t pop up unless he’s around the net with the puck on his stick. He has only put five shots on net on 12 attempts against Carolina after recording 15 shots on 22 tries in the four first-round matches.
But Eberle is a finisher on a team that doesn’t have enough of them, and absent some goal-scoring could be finished, period, after Game 4. Maybe he can get on more than twice the final 10 minutes of the contest.
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