Pens-Isles in Round 1

penguinsvsisles

It seems like the Senators got the memo that they shouldn’t play the Penguins in the first round of the playoffs. In last night’s regular season finale they got off to a good start, jumping to a 2-0 lead against Bruins, after a lull in the second and early third periods the Sens decided to make no doubt about it and posted two more to win 4-2 against the B’s who will enter the playoffs as the 4th seed. As such, the Sens get the Canadiens and the Penguins will get the Islanders.

Lifetime playoff series: 8-11, series record: 0-3. The facts of the lifetime series between the Penguins and the Islanders aren’t very pretty. In three series the Pens are 0 for 3. In their first series in 1975 the Islanders became only the second team in NHL history to pull off a come from behind victory down 3-0 in a 7 game playoff series. That was only the 3rd season of existence for the Isles. In their next meeting, in 1982, the Islanders managed to take 3 out of 5 on the way to their second (of four) consecutive Stanley Cup championships. If there is one series that isn’t embarrassing for the Penguins it would be this won, the Pens took the reigning Cup champ Isles the full length of the series, and this was only one year before they completely bombed and won the Mario Lemieux sweepstakes.

And then there is the infamous 1992-93 Divisional Round matchup. We aren’t old enough to remember this vividly but the story is clear: this is the lineup that the Penguins dressed in that playoffs.

And yet they were unable to overcome the Islanders, who hadn’t made the playoffs at all in the previous two seasons (when the Penguins were winning back-to-back Cups themselves). Some dude named David Volek scored the OT winner in game 7 to deny the Pens a chance at the term “dynasty.”

Key to the Matchup: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but the Pens will need to play disciplined hockey against the Islanders. We’re not saying this to hark back to last year, we’re saying this because the Islanders aren’t very good at drawing penalties, but when they do, they tend to be at their best. For some perspective, 5on5+-per60, a measurement of whether a team scores more or less than their opponents at even strength has the Islanders in the bottom half of the league (20th overall) with a -0.1 (for more perspective the Pens were second in the league at +0.8, meaning they averaged nearly one more even strength goal per game than their opponents for the entire season). Also, the Isles were not goaded into taking too many penalties, despite employing Matt Martin, they’re 110:40 minutes of penalty killing time is good for third lowest this season. At the same time they managed to spend the fifth least amount of time on the power play, which suggests they aren’t great at drawing penalties either.

For that reason the Pens just need to play smart and safe. The Islanders play their best hockey on the power play, given that the Isles don’t draw lots of penalties, the Penguins will have the ability to control the amount of opportunities they give to the Islanders. That will be a good test for players like Kris Letang and James Neal who completely lost their bacon in the playoffs last year.

On Ice Matchup(s) to Watch For:

  • Kris Letang and Paul Martin against the Islanders’ top line: People are trying to insist that the Islanders are not one dimensional, that their second and third lines have both come on strong down the stretch, but even if they have, we don’t see it being a big deal. The lynchpin for the Islanders will be whether John Tavares and his linemates, Matt Moulson and Brad Boyes, can lead from the front, or if these two (or Brooks Orpik if he can get healthy) will shut the door. Tavares is a superstar so we’d be surprised if he doesn’t come up with any heroics.
  • Apparently Sid and Geno have both struggled against Evgeni Nabokov, but we haven’t been able to hunt down those numbers. I suspect these things won’t hold but maybe I’m just crazy.
  • Not saying it’s going to change anything but this season Marc Andre Fleury went 1-1 with an .882 S% and 3.6 GAA against the Islanders while Tomas Vokoun posted a record of 3-0 with a .970 S%, 0.9 GAA, and a shutout.

Don’t want to wait another two days. Go Pens.

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