It’s the same story for the New York Islanders but in a different year. The playoffs are starting, and the team is being doubted by everyone. It also feels more warranted this year. A post-trade deadline slump saw them lose to the Sabres and the Devils, as they dropped four of their last five games to end the season. They now face a formidable and familiar foe in the Pittsburgh Penguins, who they swept in the first round two years ago. Another great year by Sidney Crosby and co. led the Pens to a first-place finish. But can they make it to the second round for the first time since 2017-18? The odds look good, as they face a team they beat six times out of eight in the regular season.
The start of the postseason normally means that teams stick to just one goaltender until the end of time. That rule may not apply to the Islanders, who used both Semyon Varlamov and Thomas Greiss in last year’s postseason. Now it is between Varlamov and rookie Ilya Sorokin. Varlamov was amazing, with a .929 save percentage and a GAA of 2.04, plus a league-leading seven shutouts. But he is battling an injury, complicating his status. Sorokin had a .918 save percentage with a 2.17 GAA as he got better as his rookie season went on. Whoever is in net for New York will be an advantage over Tristan Jarry, who was mediocre in his first season as a full-time starter. He played in 39 games, with a .909 save percentage.
The back-end is New York’s specialty, led by the amazing top pairing of Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech The rest does drop-off. Nick Leddy led the team in assists but struggles in his own end with partner Scott Mayfield, who can be inconsistent. The same could be said for second-year player Noah Dobson. His partner, Andy Greene, is much more stable. Pittsburgh has some big names, like Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin. Letang is not the same player he once was but did have four of his seven goals against New York this year. John Marino and Marcus Pettersson have been a great pair and Mike Matheson and Cody Ceci are a replacement-level third pairing. This is easily the closest of the groups, but the Islanders’ top pair slightly edges them out.
One team has a bad power play with a great penalty kill, and one team has a bad penalty kill with a great power play. The former is the Islanders, who ranked 21st in the league in power-play percentage at 18.8 percent. The Penguins were 27th at PK%, allowing a goal nearly a quarter of the time. The fourth-best power play in the league will face off against the sixth penalty kill, with the 23.7 percent Pittsburgh power play versus the 83.7 percent Islanders unit. The advantage goes to Pittsburgh, as having a dominant power play affects the game more than a dominant penalty kill. Given Barry Trotz’s style, the Islanders are also fine with that trade-off.
The Islanders’ offense was never the same after captain Anders Lee tore his ACL midseason. That is apparent with Leo Komarov flanking Matthew Barzal for most of the season. The second line of Brock Nelson, Anthony Beauvillier, and Josh Bailey was special in the postseason and has been the team’s best as of late. The fourth line of Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas, and Cal Clutterbuck is a major game-changer, but they have ended the season invisible. The Penguins have a clear advantage here, with Crosby and Evgeni Malkin healthy. Crosby has Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust to assist him, while somewhat recent trade acquisitions Kasperi Kapanen and Jason Zucker have fit in with Malkin nicely. The fourth line of Zach Aston-Reese, Brandon Tanev, and Teddy Blueger is massively underrated.
The game-breaker, or X-factor, is clearly Kyle Palmieri for the Islanders. Palmieri has scored just two goals since coming over from New Jersey. He has looked better as of late, and his 6.5 percent shooting rate as an Islander is unlucky. He could get hot like Pageau did last year, being the team’s acquisition. This may seem like a cliche, but Crosby has to be Pittsburgh’s game-breaker. He was electric this year, scoring 24 times with a team-leading 62 points. The reason he is even considered here is what he did the last time these teams met in the postseason. In their four-game loss, Crosby managed just an assist while being shut down by Pelech and Pulock. If both game-breakers are on their game, obviously Crosby would be better.
Hahahahahaha. Haha. Haha. No offense to Mike Sullivan, but this one is pretty clear-cut. There is no way around it: Trotz is the best in the league. The Islanders having nearly a week between their regular-season finale and Game 1 is the main reason why they have a fighting chance. It is dangerous to give Trotz that much time to prepare. Look what he did last year. Granted, that was closer to three months than a week, but the man has talent.
They might have won the division are a lethal force, but the Penguins aren’t going to be the ones deciding who wins this series. It all depends on how the Islanders can play. They can be extremely two-faced, as seen by last year’s postseason and their end to this year. They have the strengths to outplay the Penguins, but the problem is always going to be their offense. If they can score goals like they were in the playoffs last year and early in this season, they will be able to win this series. The Penguins just need to stop it and hope that Jarry’s .917 save percentage against the Islanders in the regular season holds.
Series Prediction: New York 4-2
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