PENGUINS – ISLANDERS SUDDENLY A POTENTIAL FIRST ROUND MATCHUP
The narrative surrounding the Penguins has suddenly changed in a matter of three or four days. Getting four out of four points against two divisional rivals you’re chasing in the standings will do that.
When the Evgeni Malkin news came down Saturday, there was this feeling among some pundits and the fan base that it was going to be a dog fight for this team just to make the playoffs. Maybe things still end up playing out that way, but back-to-back wins vs the Rangers and Islanders have now changed the discussion to getting home ice and taking second place in the division.
At least for now.
With Pittsburgh’s 2-1 shootout win over the Islanders tonight, the race for second place in the Metropolitan Division is tightening.
New York Islanders (85 points/14 games remaining), New York Rangers (85 points/13 games remaining), Pittsburgh Penguins (82 points/13 games remaining).
The Rangers at Anaheim, Los Angeles, and San Jose their next three games, look potentially vulnerable.
The Penguins 5-3 win over the Rangers on Sunday was a big swing in standings with it now followed up by tonight’s win vs the Islanders. The art of four point games, a Rangers win in regulation Sunday and they would have been nine points up on the Penguins after that contest with little to no chance of Pittsburgh making up that ground the rest of the way.
Pittsburgh is now just three points behind the Rangers and the Islanders.
If the Rangers stumble on their West Coast swing, seven days from now a Penguins – Islanders first round playoff series could be much more of a possibility than imagined a few weeks ago.
Probability sites currently project the Islanders right now as the Penguins second most likely first round opponent, big change in a week.
Even without Evgeni Malkin, a goaltending matchup of Marc Andre Fleury vs Thomas Greiss that strongly favors the Penguins (regardless of what Greiss’s numbers are this season), should be an area that gives Pittsburgh a needed edge over a seven game series. A key edge from Pittsburgh end you have to capitalize on if this matchup comes to fruition.
PENGUINS – ISLES POST GAME THOUGHTS
What played out for the Penguins tonight in their 2-1 shootout win vs the Islanders was putting together a workman like performance against a team that played last night and Pittsburgh looked on their way to shutting the Islanders out until a Nick Bonino slashing penalty late in the third put the Islanders on the power play and Kyle Okposo tied the game.
There’s no question Bonino does some little things well that don’t show up in a box score but his season just continues to be a disaster based on the offensive ability he’s shown in the past years.
A few takeaways for the Penguins from this one:
1. Sidney Crosby is leading by example in a big way and it’s not just about the points. He extended his points streak to nine games with an assist but more importantly it’s the determination he’s playing with in chasing loose pucks and winning puck battles in the offensive zones. He’s setting a tone for his teammates and that continued tonight. Players are feeding off his effort.
2. Marc Andre Fleury was excellent in the Penguins 2-1 loss to New York last Tuesday and tonight he had that look where he was going to be very tough to beat. Pittsburgh, though, defended New York much better than the previous meeting. They were much more effective at clearing lanes in front and defended the net-front area well. Fleury could see pucks well.
3. A third meeting between the two clubs and another sign of the Penguins matching up better with the Islanders this season due to more speed in the lineup. Key areas that showed was on the forecheck and back pressure through the neutral zone that played a factor in not letting the Islanders get out in transition.