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Insider Only Round 1: Neutral Zone Play will be a telling point on how Pens – Isles goes early on

Round 1 Set Between Penguins – Islanders

The Penguins performance in Saturday’s 4-3 overtime loss to the New York Rangers was a fitting end to the regular season for Pittsburgh in how they just find ways to make things more difficult than they should be.

A third period collapse versus the lowly Rangers had Pittsburgh minutes away from a Round 1 meeting with the Washington Capitals until Jake Guentzel saved the day with 2:36 remaining in regulation to tie the game at 3-3.

Guentzel tying the game late is how it should have been with Guentzel scoring his 40th goal of the season and Sidney Crosby picking up his 100th point of the season with the assist.

Thanks to Guentzel’s late heroics, Pittsburgh accomplished their goal of getting a Round 1 matchup with the New York Islanders.

What will be fascinating with this series is whether the Penguins up and down play all season, looking like a middle of the road team one week, looking like a dangerous Cup contender the next week will be a precursor of what to expect in the post-season.

It won’t be a shock if the Penguins show up in Round 1, put it all together and their superior talent 1-20 breaks the Islanders dam and we see Pittsburgh cruise to an easy six game series, similar to Pens – Flyers last spring in Round 1.

It also won’t be a shock if what we saw all regular season is actually who the Penguins are. One that looks like a machine one period, one that will shoot themselves in the foot the next period with critical breakdowns that have followed them all season.

The odds are the Penguins making this a tougher series on themselves than they should.


— The Islanders with a 104 point campaign, recorded the most points in franchise history since the 1983-1984 season and New York’s regular season success went against several norms:

NYI Rankings
22nd in the NHL in 5-on-5 goals | (PIT 6th)
29th on the power play (14.5%) | (PIT 5th)
18th on the penalty kill (79.9%) | (PIT 19th)
26th in possession (47.8%) | (PIT 15th)
16th in Scoring Chance For % (49.3%) | (PIT 10th)

They’ve countered all of that by being the stingiest defensive team in hockey, allowing a league-low 191 goals (2.33 p/g, all situations), including 5-on-5 (127 goals against, 1st in the league).

All of this despite lacking a legitimate No. 1 caliber shutdown defenseman on their backend and having a goaltending combo of Robin Lehner (25-13-5, 2.13 GAA, .930SV%) and Thomas Greiss (23-14-4, 2.28 GAA, .927SV%). Who saw that come?

Scouts contend the Islanders all-in defensive mindset has insulated their goaltending to a great extent. The Isles have done an excellent job through the neutral zone of forcing teams to the outside and the Islanders are a very good coached team at boxing out in front to keep the opposition of the sightlines of Lehner and Greiss.

The Islanders success in this series is going to be about using their speed to expose the Penguins bottom pairs and most importantly winning the neutral zone.

COUNTER-ATTACK

The Penguins have great vulnerabilities of getting lackadaisical with the puck in the neutral zone and players blowing assignments that make them susceptible to odd-man rushes the other way. It was on display again in the third period vs the Rangers Saturday night and the Islanders 1- Want the Full Story? Get "Inside Access"

About The Author

William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at wdepaoli@insidepittsburghsports.com

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