Playoff Preview: New York Islanders vs Pittsburgh Penguins

The New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins will meet in their sixth ever playoff series in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. In 5 out of 6 series, the Islanders have been victorious against the Penguins. In addition, their most recent matchup in the 2019 playoffs featured New York sweeping Pittsburgh in the first round. The Penguins will start the series at home at PPG Paints Arena and will be sporting their gold jerseys’ to start the playoffs. The puck is set to drop for Game 1 on May 16th at 12:00 PM.

The New York Islanders

The Islanders finished the shortened season with a record of 32-17-7 for a total of 71 points. Moreover, their regular-season points percentage was .634% and they finished with a +28 goal differential. These numbers earned the Islanders the fourth spot in the Eastern division and the 12th spot in the league standings. On the other hand, the Islanders acquired Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri on April 7th to boost their offense. However, New York went 7-7-3, just finishing over .500% with the two added veterans. Since the additions, the Islanders have been inconsistent in play and have not been finding ways to win. However, playoff hockey is extremely unpredictable and ignites flames in teams. In addition, Barry Trotz will have a few days to assess his team before the first playoff game. A few off-days and full team practices were a rare occurrence in the shortened season.

During the regular season, the Islanders went 2-4-2 against the Penguins. Despite losing the regular-season series, the games were hard-fought and close between the two teams. 5 out of the 8 games were decided by 1 goal and two of the games went past regulation. However, the season series between teams often means nothing when it comes to the playoffs. In short, the series will be close and could very well come down to the wire between the Islanders and the Penguins.

The Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins finished the regular season with a record of 37-16-3 for a total of 77 points. In addition, their regular-season points percentage was .688% and they finished with a +40 goal differential. Furthermore, their record and point total allowed them to win the Eastern division. More impressively, the Penguins were slated to have a forgettable season and were pinned to miss the playoffs by most predictions. However, they proved they were not going anywhere and dominated the toughest realigned division. In addition, the Penguins added two-time Stanley Cup Champion Jeff Carter. This move has worked beautifully for GM Ron Hextall and the Penguins. Carter has scored 9 goals and 2 assist for 11 points in 14 games with Pittsburgh. The Penguins will be an unpredictable and exciting team to watch in the upcoming playoffs.

The Penguins beat the Islanders in the season series with a record of 6-2-0. Pittsburgh was able to win each game that went past regulation. However, like mentioned before, a majority of the games between the two clubs were very close and often a hard battle. The Penguins will be looking to win only what would be their second playoff series win against the Islanders.

Offensive Matchup

In terms of offense, the Penguins win the matchup quite easily. Pittsburgh’s offense marks an outstanding 3.45 Goals-per game. This also ranks second in the league amongst offenses. Sidney Crosby has yet to slow down and led his team to another successful season. Even without Evgeni Malkin who has been out for a majority of the season, the Penguins offense is profound and opportunistic. As usual, Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust have been producing on Crosby’s wings and have been one of the best lines in the NHL. Furthermore, Kris Letang is tied for third in points from a defenseman. Throw in the recent addition of Jeff Carter and the Penguins are the clear favorites in terms of offense against the Islanders.

The Islanders have their fair share of offensive talent. Mathew Barzal leads the team in points with 45. However, no one on the Islanders has surpassed 20 goals. Brock Nelson is the closest to the milestone with 18 goals. Anthony Beauvillier is a threat every time he steps on the ice as well. Yet, the Islanders still face troubles with putting the puck in the net. The need for more offense was attempted to be handled with the addition of Palmieri. However, Palmieri has had a tough year on the Devils and brought over his mediocre play and has only scored 2 goals in 17 games with New York. Furthermore, the Islanders are 20th in the league with 2.71 Goals-per game. The Islanders will need to produce more offense in order to beat the Penguins, who happen to score a lot.

Defensive Matchup

On the other hand, the Islanders have the advantage on the defensive side of the game. However, the Penguins are not poor defensively but are not as strong as the Islanders. New York ranks 2nd in the league with Goals Against Average with 2.18 per game. The Penguins are ranked 14th in the league with 2.77 GAA per game. The Islanders are known to play a defensive game and are hard to score against. Once they get the lead, it is a hard feat to break through on their defense. Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock are one of the top defensive pairings in the league and play amazing and structured defense. Nick Leddy brings a bit more offense to the Islanders blue-line, but the main focus for the Islanders defense is shutting down the opponents.

The Penguins have a very solid defense that could be hard to breakthrough. Kris Letang has had a very impressive year and is contributing on the offensive end as well. Cody Ceci is also having an above-average season for himself. However, it is possible for the defense to have an inconsistent play. The defense has faired better than most believed this season and is also supported with an outburst of goals from the offense. Ultimately, the Islanders still have the better defense of the two teams and should make the high-scoring Penguins job harder.

Goaltending Matchup

The goaltending matchup will feature New York’s Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin versus Pittsburgh’s Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith. Both teams have a great goaltending duo who have put up fantastic numbers during the regular season. Varlamov’s record ended at 19-11-4 and boasts an SV % of .929 and a 2.04 GAA. Sorokin put up a record of 13-6-3 with a .918 SV % and a 2.17 GAA. Jarry ended the season with a 25-9-3 record and a .909 SV% and 2.75 GAA. DeSmith’s record ended at 17-11-7 with a .912 SV % and 2.54 GAA. However, Varlamov had to leave the Islander’s last game of the season with an apparent injury. There is hope that he will be back for the playoffs, but Sorokin could start. If the Islanders duo can remain healthy, they will have the edge over the Penguins duo in Jarry and DeSmith.

The Verdict

The matchup between the two teams is astonishingly close and could very well go to 7 games. The series could go either way and the playoffs will inspire both teams to be at their best. If the Islanders can return to their normal selves, they could fend off the high octane offense of the Penguins. On the other hand, the Islanders will have to produce more offense and simply score more. Both teams have to achieve a few changes if they want to move onto the next round of the playoffs and even further into the playoffs. Nevertheless, it will be a grueling, demanding, and entertaining series.

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