In the event you’re like me, you had been pulling actually (actually) laborious for the Penguins to face the New York Islanders within the opening spherical of the Stanley Cup playoffs. I wished no elements of Boston and Brad Marchand and Tuukka Rask and nonetheless don’t (in all probability the one time I’ll ever root for Washington).
However because the outdated saying goes, watch out what you would like for since you simply may get it.
Traditionally, the Islanders have owned us within the playoffs, successful 4 of 5 conferences (assume Penguins-Capitals in reverse). Not solely have that they had their means with us, however they’ve inflicted a few of the most damaging and course-altering defeats in franchise historical past…the unbelievable 1975 comeback from a 3-0 deficit that despatched us reeling into receivership; the crushing Recreation Seven additional time loss in 1993 that stopped a would-be dynasty lifeless in its tracks; the inglorious sweep in 2019.
Chico Resch and bleeping David Volek.
No sense in dwelling on the previous. At present’s a brand new day. And for those who’re a Penguins fan there’s loads of purpose for optimism.
First, a quick recap. Whereas the Pens captured the MassMutual East with 77 factors, the Islanders wound up in fourth with 71 factors. A lot of that hole can attributable to our regular-season mastery of our first-round foe. We went 6-2 in opposition to the Isles, accumulating 12 out of a potential 16 factors within the course of.
By season’s finish, the groups had been clearly heading in reverse instructions. Following a 2-0 loss to the Islanders on February 28, we closed with a piping-hot 26-8-2 run. Outstanding, given the spate of accidents we endured to key gamers equivalent to Evgeni Malkin.
As for the Islanders, they stumbled via a 6-7-3 residence stretch, a slide that coincided nearly to the day they acquired forwards Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac from New Jersey in an try and plug the gaping gap created by the lack of crew captain and stud energy ahead Anders Lee to a season-ending torn ACL.
They are saying kinds make fights. That’s positively the case with the Pens and the Islanders. Pace versus construction. Apollo Creed versus Rocky Balboa.
Mike Sullivan’s boys wish to play on their toes. We wish to exploit the lure, flip the Islanders’ protection and reduce unfastened our high-powered offense. One thing we did fairly successfully through the common season.
Below coach Barry Trotz, the Islanders embrace a disciplined, counter-punching model. They’ll clog the impartial zone and await us to develop impatient and switch the puck over. Then they’ll attempt to capitalize on these alternatives. A components that labored to perfection through the 2019 postseason.
Up entrance, each groups boast loads of depth and might roll 4 productive strains, together with gritty nettlesome fourth strains. Nevertheless, the black and gold has a determined edge in higher echelon expertise. Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust every topped 20 targets. Malkin and newcomer Jeff Carter are big-time scoring threats. By comparability, slick middle Matt Barzal topped the Isles with 45 factors, 17 lower than Crosby.
Lest you assume we’re all cream and no substance, we are able to rating by committee as properly.
Defensively, it’s a bit extra even. For New York, the tandem of Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock graded out as among the finest within the NHL, and former Cup-winner Nick Leddy isn’t any slouch. However the Pens’ prime pairing of Norris Trophy hopeful Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin is top-notch as properly. Mike Matheson and Cody Ceci might spell hassle for the Isles with their potential to exit the zone rapidly.
Between the pipes, Semyon Varlamov was far superior to our Tristan Jarry statistically besides the place it issues most…wins and losses. Which leads me to…
Regardless of Varlamov’s gaudy numbers (2.04 GAA, .929 SV%, 7 SO), the Pens discovered a sizeable chink in his armor and exploited it fantastically. Our final six targets in opposition to the veteran netminder…and 9 of the final 10…have gone in on the stick facet. He’s particularly weak excessive to the stick facet.
Turning the tables, the Pens are susceptible to a heavy forecheck. When pressured, our protection tends to unravel. We’re notably prone under the purpose line and near the cage. (For a ugly reminder, watch clips of our 7-5 loss to the Bruins on April 3).
To make issues worse, our forwards have problem successful puck battles once we’re pinned in our finish. A recipe for catastrophe in opposition to an enormous, sturdy Islanders squad that excels alongside the wall.
Too, the place the New Yorkers not often take a shift off, we’re responsible at instances of taking part in in spurts. Sixty-minute efforts have to be the rule and never the exception.
I’d talked about the Pens’ prime line earlier. They’re the X-Issue on this sequence. Throughout the common season they tore the Islanders aside. Sid had three targets and 9 factors, Rusty 5 targets and eight factors and Jake a purpose and 7 factors. For good measure, Letang owned the Isles (4 targets and 9 factors).
Mixed, the fearsome foursome accounted for 13 of the 25 targets we scored in opposition to the Fish Sticks (sorry, needed to get that in there).
I’ll add Carter and the flourishing third line to the combo as properly.
For the Isles, it’s Jordan Eberle. Since becoming a member of the blue and orange in 2017-18, he’s tortured us to the tune of a dozen targets, together with 4 through the 2019 playoffs and 4 extra this season.
Nonetheless, it’s 5 in opposition to one. Pens in six.
*Remember to try Rick Bukers books,
out there at TriumphBooks.com,