Few things stick out to me like the spring of 2007. The Pittsburgh Penguins were back in the playoffs for the first time in six years and with an exciting young core of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal and Marc-Andre Fleury were anxious to compete for the Cup. Then the playoffs started and they found out how things worked when they slammed up against the Ottawa Senators, then a battle-tested team that would roll to become Eastern Conference champions.
Now six years later the New York Islanders are in the "young upstart" team category and the Penguins have played 75 Stanley Cup playoff games in the past five years to put them in the grisled, experienced corner.
A few weeks ago, when I was looking for potential playoff opponents, I did some digging and saw that the Islanders top 15 scorers had only played a combined 64 total NHL playoff games. Faceoff Factor's Jesse Marshall did the full research and found that the Isles have a total of 193 combined career playoff games, with 80 of them by starting goalie Evgeni Nabokov. The Pens, on the other hand, have a combined 1,159 games of experience.
And take some of the Isles key players last time in playoffs of any level:
- Frans Nielson, near as hockeydb can tell, hasn't played any playoff hockey of note.
- Mark Streit (2008, Montreal, NHL)
- Matt Moulson hasn't been in the playoffs since 2008 (Manchester, AHL)
- Josh Bailey's last playoff appearance came with just 5 games back in 2008 in the OHL.
- John Tavares last played playoff hockey in 2009 (London of the OHL)
- Kyle Okposo played just 2 games in 2009 with Bridgeport, before that nothing since 2006 when he was in the USHL.
- Andrew MacDonald, 2010 (Bridgeport, AHL)
- Travis Hamonic, 2010 (Brandon Wheat Kings, WHL)
- Michael Grabner,2010 (Vancouver, NHL
- Nabokov, 2010 (San Jose, NHL)
- Lubomir Visnovsky, 2011 (Anaheim, NHL)
This lack of playoff experience is compounded by a lack of AHL playoff experience that Bridgeport has had in the AHL recently. In the past seven seasons, the Sound Tigers have only made the playoffs three times, getting bounced in the first round all three times for a total of only 13 games in the seven years. So even when guys come up through the ranks like Okposo, Nielson, Hamonic and MacDonald, they have little to no meaningful professional playoff experience.
Does this mean the Islanders shouldn't show up? Probably not. Experience alone isn't going to win the Penguins this playoff series and I doubt that just because, say, Brooks Orpik has 75 games under his belt, doesn't mean that it's inherently going to be a Penguins win.
But the Pens can draw off of their experience, like last year when they got bounced in the first round in a crushing fashion in order to gain the upper hand. In the playoffs the intensity is ratcheted up, the games mean more and until a team goes through it, it's incredibly difficult to gain the experience without learning the lesson of what it takes to win.