1. Pittsburgh Penguins vs 8. New York Islanders
ISLANDERS PROJECTED LINES
1st Line: Matt Moulson (15G-29A-44Pts) – John Tavares (28G-19A-47Pts) – Brad Boyes (10G-25A-36Pts)
2nd Line: Josh Bailey (11G-8A-19Pts) – Frans Nielsen (6G-23A-29Pts) – Kyle Okposo (4G-20A-24Pts)
3rd Line: Michael Grabner (16G-5A-21Pts) – Keith Aucoin (6-6-12) – Colin McDonald (7G-10A-17Pts)
4th Line: Matt Martin (4G-7A-11Pts) – Marty Reasoner (0G-5A-5Pts) – Casey Cizikas (6G-9A-15Pts)
Brian Strait (0G-4A-4Pts) – Mark Streit (6G-21A-27Pts)
Thomas Hickey (1G-3A-4Pts) – Lubomir Visnovsky (3G-11A-14Pts)
Travis Hamonic (3G-7A-10Pts) – Andrew MacDonald (3G-9A-12Pts)
Evgeni Nabokov (23-11-7, 2.50 GAA, .910 sv%)
Key #’s: 2.81 G/G, 2.83 GA/G, 0.98 5-5 F/A, 19.9 PP%, 80.3 PK%
SCOUTING THE ISLANDERS
The identity of the New York Islanders is playing a fast paced game. “They’re a youthful team, a lot of energy, very gifted offensively and a team that’s been extremely hot last month,” Penguins defenseman Mark Eaton said of the Islanders.
The Islanders come at you hard and like to push the play offensively and the system in place by head coach Jack Capuano is centered around turning defense into offense with their quickness. Having good puck management is a key when playing the Islanders. “They’re definitely a team that thrives on turnovers, ” Penguins defenseman Deryk Engelland said.
“We have to be aware,” Eaton said of the Islanders trying to play a fast paced game. “We’ve talked about defensive positioning in defensive zone, but it starts when we have the puck in offensive zone.”
One strong attribute the Islanders have is puck moving defensemen who like to join the play in Mark Streit and Lubomir Visnovsky and both are great at getting the puck to open players in space.
“They’re a team that likes to create off the rush, and they’re defense like to join, so we always need to have guys back,” Eaton said.
The physicality of the Penguins is something the Islanders can’t matchup with and the feeling is that the Islanders plan will be to try to get the Penguins to play an up and down game, something the Flyers did very effectively against the Penguins last spring in the playoffs.
“They have guys with a lot of speed, their D are active, so they try to play an uptempo game and try to get pucks to the net,” Penguins defenseman Paul Martin said. “For us, just making sure we limit their chances by not letting them get behind us.”
One Scouts take on what the Islanders should avoid doing. “You can’t sit back against this Pittsburgh team……. they will burn you.”
From the Islanders perspective, all eyes in this series is going to be on the Islanders top line of Matt Moulson, John Tavares and Brad Boyes. The three combined for 82 even strength points on the season.
“Without question one of the best lines in hockey,” an Eastern Conference scout said. “They give just about anybody matchup problems because they have a little bit of everything.”
In Tavares, the Islanders boast a top-end centerman who can do it all and Tavares has a solid mix of wingers next to him in a big power forward type in Matt Moulson who’s very effective as a net-front presence, and Brad Boyes has added a playmaking dimension to the line and has developed strong chemistry with Tavares.
“It’s a good first line,” Paul Martin said of the Islanders top line. “Tavares carries that line being a top end caliber player in this game. Lot of skill, obviously seeing the year he’s had this year, we know the type of player he is,” Martin said. “They fit well together as a line and it’s going to be a challenge for us and we have to be aware of when they’re out there.”
The past two seasons the Penguins have been very effective at shutting Tavares down, who has just 2 points and a minus-11 rating in his last 11 games vs Pittsburgh. If the Islanders are going to play spoilers, Tavares needs to have a Claude Giroux type series that Giroux had against Pittsburgh last spring.
While the Tavares line gets all the press, the Islanders second line of Josh Bailey, Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo is a good line and potentially dangerous one in the series.
They’re a line that comes at you on the forecheck with Okposo and it’s a good mix with a playmaking center in Nielsen and an all-around player in Josh Bailey. The Bailey-Nielsen-Okposo line will need to ease the pressure off the Tavares line and they have the ability to that.
Bailey has 6 goals and 10 points in his last 13 games and has been an effective player vs the Penguins, with 3 goals and 7 assists in his last nine games vs Pittsburgh.
The questionmark in this series for the Islanders is their depth upfront on the third and fourth lines. Can the third line of Michael Grabner, Keith Aucoin, and Colin McDonald be a difference in the series?
Grabner, a one-trick pony, is the key player on that line, has blazing speed and can make teams pay who are sloppy with the puck in the neutral zone by turning defense into offense.
“You gotta know when he’s on the ice,” Penguins winger Pascal Dupuis said of Grabner. “You need to take his space away before he gets time to wind up a bit.”
Special teams will be a key in this series and the Islanders boast the No. 11th ranked power play in the NHL. It’s one of the few areas they could exploit against the Penguins 25th ranked penalty kill. With Streit, the Islanders are very effective are getting the puck in and setting up and they like to space teams out and move the puck through the box.
Statistically, the Penguins finished the regular season ranked among the worst PK’s in the NHL, but the players in the room feel there has been steady improvement over the last six to seven weeks.
“Halfway through this year on our PK, we’ve found our rhythm,” Pascal Dupuis said. On the other side, an uphill climb for the Islanders in the series will be trying to stop the Penguins No. 2 ranked power play.
Although the Islanders have the goaltender in Evgeni Nabokov who could steal a game, the eventual downfall for the Islanders in this series figures to be defensively and on the blueline. The Islanders lack a true shutdown pairing and boast a smallish group of defensemen, a major mismatch against a Penguins team that comes at you on the forecheck and will be a handful for the Islanders to contain.
“Key to our game is to put pucks behind their defensemen and to work down low and wear them down,” Pascal Dupuis said of the Penguins attacking the Islanders smallish group of defensemen in this series.
Series Prediction: PENGUINS IN 6