The New York Islanders were one of the surprise teams in the NHL this season. In the summer, they hired Barry Trotz as head coach but lost John Tavares in free agency to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Tavares was a big loss, but it didn’t seem to bother the Islanders this season. The biggest offseason acquisition may have been the free agent signing of Robin Lehner, who has been great for them in goal this season.
The Pittsburgh Penguins core is attempting to win yet another Stanley Cup. They’ve added some pieces like Jared McCann and Nick Bjugstad. The offense has carried them once again this season but Matt Murray has been playing better of late. It’s the playoffs so that means the season starts anew, and you could very well see Playoff Matt Murray lead his team to another deep run this postseason.
The Regular Season Series Rundown
The Islanders and Penguins faced each other four times this season with the Islanders going 2-1-1 in the season series. The first meeting was on Oct. 30 and the Islanders easily won that game 6-3 with Robin Lehner getting the win. The second game was played on Nov.1 and the Islanders won that game 3-2 in a shootout. The third game was held on Dec. 6 and the Penguins easily won that game 6-2. The final game of the series was played on Dec. 10 with the Penguins pulling out a 2-1 win in a close game.
Special Teams Breakdown
The special teams of the New York Islanders have been a weak spot of the team this year. The power play ranked 29th in the NHL at 14.5% and the penalty kill was a mediocre 79.9% on the season. It is the playoffs so a new season is starting, but the Isles need to find a way to get the special teams straightened out and having an impact on the game. They scored 33 power play goals in 233 opportunities and only gave up on short-handed goal. On the penalty kill, they allowed 44 power play goals against while being a man down 219 times. The Islanders did score six short-handed goals of their own this year.
The Penguins power play has been excellent this season, as it should with the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Jake Guentzel on the units. The had the fifth best power play in the League (24.6%), but allowed 15 short-handed goals against, which is way too high. The penalty kill has some work to do since they were in the middle-of-the-pack at 79.7%. They allowed 45 power play goals while short-handed, but scored 12 goals while a man down. The Islanders will have to be careful while on the power play.
There is not just one key player in this series for the Islanders, but a group of players, and it is the defense. The Islanders play a tight-checking game and make you earn time and space. The Islanders blue line is composed of veterans and younger kids, but they managed to play well all season long. They had the occasional game where they were outworked by the opposition and didn’t look good at all, but this is where Barry Trotz has made the most difference with this team.
Matt Murray will be a key piece to the Penguins if they play on making it out of the first round. Murray has been known to step up his game and play spectacular in the playoffs. He has stolen quite a few games for his team, who can be sloppy defensively in front of him. Murray may have gotten off to a slow start, but he warmed up to the task and has helped to lead the Penguins back to the playoffs.
The biggest key to winning this series is going to be how the goaltenders play for the Islanders. The goaltending tandem of Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss won the Williams Jennings Award for allowing the least amount of goals in the regular season. The playoffs are a different animal and are high pressure so it will be interesting to see how these two goalies respond to the challenge. Lehner should probably get to start game one, but it could also be Greiss. No matter which goalie is in net, they need to make saves and not get rattled.
The x-factor for the Penguins this series is going to be the experience that this team brings to the table. They need to not get rattled or involved too much after the whistle because that takes them off their game. The Pens have a ton of experience and they need to use that to their advantage and play a smart game and get the good matchups.
The Islanders Win the Series If….
The team can manage to keep the turnovers to a minimum and play solid team defense like they have been doing all season long. The defense went from worst to first in just one year under Barry Trotz. They’ll need to play a tight checking game against the Penguins, who will take advantage of turnovers. If there is a turnover then either Lehner or Greiss need to come up with the save to keep the Islanders in the game. If the team is loose with their defense and doesn’t get any goaltending then this series could be over pretty quick.
The Penguins Win the Series If….
They can get good goaltending from Matt Murray and get that depth scoring that they’ve had all season long. If the depth scoring disappears then it makes the matchup game pretty easy for Barry Trotz and the Isles’ coaching staff. They’ll need to play with some discipline and not get into it after the whistle. A key factor will also be the power play and converting on their chances.
Islanders-Penguins Series Prediction
The Islanders were the best defensive team in the NHL this season, but the Penguins have the experience and depth to win some games. The series will go the distance with the Penguins moving on to the next round. The Islanders goalies will not be as good in the postseason as they were during the regular season.