Without further ado, our $0.02
JAMES CONLEY: I refuse to rule out an upset. The Islanders are a better team than the eighth seed suggests, they've got gamebreaking talent in Tavares and if there was one position in which you wanted veteran calm and playoff experience, it's goaltender. Nabokov, for the choke jobs the Sharks pulled in so many past playoffs, is a key piece for them. Forwards have 11 other players with whom to share their inexperience and who can help each other along, defensemen five. Goalies are on an island and a few bad goals can really isolate them, but having a player in net who's been around the playoff block means the Isles won't have to worry about a fragile or too-green goaltender.
Pittsburgh has the best assemblage of talent of any team in the salary cap era. You have to go back to the video game versions of the early-2000s Red Wings to find a club with a future hall of famer on its third line, or legitimate scoring potential on the fourth. To me, this first round is more about the Pens winning the battle against the expectations placed on them. They have the talent to run any team in the East out of the building in a hurry. They seemed to have that team last year, too, but failed to address weaknesses in their own game when the Flyers exposed them. This year, they've got fewer weaknesses and much more of the veteran calm needed to weather the storms when they invariably come.
The big key for me is the production of each team's top line. The Tavares line can do damage. But Pittsburgh can roll a shutdown unit against them, especially with last change and home-ice advantage. Tavares' line is excellent, but there's no Manny to their Papi. If the Pens limit the damage that line does, forget about it.
Oh, and Kunitz, Malkin and Neal are back together?
Later. Pens in 5.
JIM (Hooks): First of all, I like how Conley starts out using the word "upset" and ends up with Pens in 5, as if in penning his analysis he remembered just how mis-matched the two teams really are at the end of the day.
Even without Sidney Crosby, the best player in the world, the Penguins firepower is still impressive. I will say (without trying to just pay lip service) that the Islanders HAVE been playing really good hockey for the last month and the team has found their stride and won enough games late to earn their spot in the playoffs.
That said, they're still a very young team, with virtually no playoff experience outside of their 37 year old goalie who's played 41 of the 48 games, and their coach is in the same boat being new.
That aside, I'm not picking the Penguins because of anything regarding the Islanders, I'm picking Pittsburgh because they are deeper, stronger and better at every position and ought to have the focus and drive to right the wrongs of their recent past.
Pens in 5, I won't say sweep, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was.
JUSTIN: I'm going to say Penguins in 5 based on the same numbers I was looking at for everyone else. The goal distribution gives them a 76% chance of victory, but the Penguins' Fenwick numbers just do not match up to the Islanders', and the Penguins' PDO of 1030 compared to the Isles' 990 is not even close to a good sign. If any of these decide to come home to roost during this series, it could really spell trouble for the Penguins, and it would then appear that the Islanders had "shocked the world", to borrow a phrase from the Pitt Panthers from a few years back.
Our best hope here is that these numbers were largely built by the team as it stood in January before Shero's recent additions came in to bolster certain deficiencies. Without having old numbers to look at, though, we just don't know. You might say that this is the proverbial Sword of Damocles hanging over Dan Bylsma's head. Just as legend told of Damocles swapping places with Dionysius, if I took Bylsma's place, I may well beg to be allowed to leave, because I'm not sure I would want to be that fortunate.
(Thank you Justin, I can't speak for everyone else, but I feel like Billy Madison at the academic decathalon right now).