Few believed the Islanders would make the post-season, not to mention earn home-ice benefit within the first spherical, however a storybook season continues with New York proudly owning the second-best file within the Metropolitan Division and internet hosting the Pittsburgh Penguins in Spherical One. And right here’s the bonus for the Islanders: if there’s any coach conversant in the Penguins, and any coach who is aware of a sport plan that may work to beat Pittsburgh within the post-season, it’s Barry Trotz, who guided the Washington Capitals previous the rival Penguins final season en path to a Stanley Cup victory.
Pittsburgh hardly enters the collection as an underdog, nevertheless. With Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel and Jake Guentzel and…you get the purpose. The Penguins can run-and-gun and goaltender Matt Murray has been rock strong in latest weeks. This one may go the gap.
NEW YORK ISLANDERSUnder the brand new management of GM Lou Lamoriello, coach Barry Trotz and goalie guru Mitch Korn, the Islanders have made a exceptional about-face in only one season. Final yr, New York was the worst defensive group within the league; this season, it’s been the very best. Netminders Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss put up among the NHL’s finest save percentages, with each contributing shutouts, so it’s not simply in regards to the guys in entrance of them (although they’ve been good, too). Trotz’s construction has been the guiding mild defensively, whereas Korn has helped unlock one thing particular within the goalies.
Removed from counting on one participant or line for offense, the Islanders have unfold the love round. The well-known fourth line of Casey Cizikas between Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck continues to contribute, with the middle reaching his first 20-goal season. The Isles play old-school, with loads of hits and blocked photographs, and it has flustered the competitors all season.
However there may be actually a way that New York’s miraculous run to the highest of the Metro is a mirage, and the actual fact the Islanders are one of many worst possession groups within the NHL speaks to that. Within the common season, that was masked by nice goaltending and scorching capturing, however a downturn in both would spell doom for the squad. Lehner has simply two profession playoff video games to his identify, whereas Greiss has a dozen post-season appearances. How will Lehner, particularly, reply to the strain?
Talking of strain, a few of New York’s most vital weapons started to battle down the stretch. Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle began chilly in March after combining for simply 14 factors in February. Throughout the ultimate eight weeks of the season, the duo had 22 factors in 46 mixed video games. Was the group’s luck starting to dry up on the fallacious time?
The Islanders have one of many NHL’s worst energy performs, and so they’re not sturdy on faceoffs. They’re middle-of-the-pack in penalty killing, however no less than they don’t take many minors.
X-Issue: The Isles acquired permission to host first-round video games at Nassau Coliseum, the outdated barn the place the franchise gained its dynasty Cups within the 1980s. When it comes to crowd noise and enthusiasm, this can be a large win for the group, which in any other case has performed on the less-than-ideal-for-hockey Barclays Middle in Brooklyn. Then again, for the reason that Islanders have referred to as each rinks their dwelling this season, they could not get the identical type of home-ice benefit that comes with figuring out the subtleties of a constructing in and out – the way in which the puck bounces off the boards or glass, for instance – that different groups will.
PITTSBURGH PENGUINSPittsburgh’s greatest energy is the actual fact it nonetheless employs top-of-the-line all-around gamers ever, Sidney Crosby. The captain and three-time Stanley Cup champion is having certainly one of his most exceptional seasons but, and that’s saying one thing. Crosby, at 31, remains to be placing up factors, nonetheless dominating the faceoff circle and nonetheless shutting down the enemy’s prime strains. May he add a Selke Trophy to his overstuffed cupboard this summer season?
Oh, and behind captain Crosby at heart is one other legendary pivot in Evgeni Malkin. The Pens even have younger playoff wizards comparable to goalie Matt Murray and winger Jake Guentzel – each of whom grow to be super-charged within the post-season. Murray has solely misplaced one playoff collection ever: final yr, to the eventual champs from Washington.
General, the Penguins are chock stuffed with expertise thanks to 2 latest titles, and coach Mike Sullivan has confirmed himself to be the type of thinker who can adapt when confronted with a problem and will get it achieved in crunch time behind the bench.
Accidents decimated the Pittsburgh blueline within the second half, and well being should be a priority, beginning with star defenseman Kris Letang. Because of a scarcity of depth, Pittsburgh traded for giant however gradual Erik Gudbranson on the deadline, however his sport isn’t precisely tailor-made to the type of pedal-to-the-metal hockey the Pens are recognized for. Jack Johnson is one other veteran D-man who should show the doubters fallacious. Can this group maintain the fort sufficient to permit the forwards to flourish?
Whereas the Penguins have some first rate depth up entrance, they’re a top-heavy group. Crosby and Malkin can cowl up a number of deficiencies in that division with their play down the center, but when the Penguins face a heavy, deeper crew (like Washington final yr), it might be the dying knell for a bunch that appears to be initially of the tip of its championship window.
X-Issue: Matt Murray has had fairly the attention-grabbing yr in internet. In his first 10 appearances, he gave up 4 objectives or extra on seven events. He additionally had a concussion throughout that interval and missed extra motion in November and December as a consequence of a lower-body harm. By mid-March, he was starting to proper the ship, having suffered just one regulation loss in 9 begins between Feb. 23 and March 12. If Murray will get again to playoff kind, he’ll be one of many greatest difference-makers within the league. But when the competitors has lastly discovered the 24-year-old, the Penguins will probably be sunk. Backup Casey DeSmith can’t carry the load.
SEASON SERIES:Oct. 30, 2018 – NYI 6, PIT 3Nov. 1, 2018 – NYI three, PIT 2 (SO)Dec. 6, 2018 – PIT 6, NYI 2Dec. 10, 2018 – PIT 2, NYI 1 (SO)
SCHEDULE:Wednesday, April 10, 7:30 p.m.: Penguins at IslandersFriday, April 12, 7:30 p.m.: Penguins at IslandersSunday, April 14, 12 p.m.: Islanders at PenguinsTuesday, April 16, 7:30 p.m.: Islanders at Penguins*Thursday, April 18, TBD: Penguins at Islanders*Saturday, April 20, TBD: Islanders at Penguins*Monday, April 22, TBD: Penguins at Islanders(All video games listed in Jap Time)
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