What: Game 1, first round, 2019 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs
When: 7:30 p.m. Eastern
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet in the Pittsburgh viewing area, MSG+ (New York area), NBCSN Nationally in America, CBC in Canada
Opponent Track: The Islanders shutout a Washington Capitals team that was resting a few big guns 3-0 on Saturday to secure home-ice advantage in this series.
Pens Refresh: Pittsburgh forced OT against NYR to clinch their spot in this matchup on Saturday.
Season Series: Each team can claim a 2-1-1 record against the other, due to two shootout games that they split wins and losses in. But PIT/NYI also haven’t played each other since December 10 (when Jamie Oleksiak and Tanner Pearson were still Penguins and guys like McCann and Bjugstad weren’t), so the season series doesn’t really carry a ton of weight now.
SBN Team Counterpart: Lighthouse Hockey
10 things, where the Pens’ power play is king
Lighthouse had a nice “10 keys to the series” post. One key that stands out is the bullet point “don’t take penalties at all”
In case anyone was not aware, the Penguins have a lot of skilled players. Like, a lot of them. And those skilled players can make the most of some tight defensive situations. Case in point? The Penguins power play.
Per Evolving Hockey, the Penguins’ power play finished a modest 15th (below the Islanders, even!) in expected goals for per hour (6.79). The Penguins also finished 4th in actual goals scored per hour in power play situations (9.16). I’m not saying that’s a huge discrepancy… actually, yes I am. That’s a lot and it speaks directly towards the talent level they possess.
The Islanders, on the other hand, were 30th in the league in expected goals against per hour (8.00). That’s quite bad, and that’s not going to play well against Sidney Crosby, Evge-- you know what, you all know the list.
So what that means is the Isles’ goalies are going to have to play out of their mind in these situations
One thing I noticed in research is that the Islanders have been pretty restrained and play smart, especially at home. They were only short-handed 103 times at home, 28th lowest in the league.
That’s an average of giving up 2.5 power plays to the opposition per game, and we all know the refs tend to swallow the whistle and let the boys play in the playoffs, so it might be lower still from here on out.
Moral of the story? Power play opportunities are going to be very, very important for the Penguins in this series. They may not get a ton of them, but it’s certainly crucial to cash in and get something from what should be one of the most lopsided matchups in this series when it comes to a great Pittsburgh PP vs. a bad NYI PK.
Break It Down
Over the week we’ve done a lot of previews on the Islanders. Feel free to check them out and refresh as we gear up for Game 1:
All things considered, and by the numbers, I think it’s fair to say that talent levels are probably below-average for playoff teams with their top-six forwards and defensemen. But goaltending is a great equalizer and has been an incredibly strong positive force for the Isles this year.
And now for the Penguins...
Join Our Bracket
If you’re reading on Wednesday, it’s not too late! We have more than 500 people in our group so far and still have room for more!
I’ll try to think up a good prize for the winner this year.
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby -Bryan Rust
Jared McCann -Evgeni Malkin - Patric Hornqvist
Dominik Simon - Nick Bjugstad - Phil Kessel
Zach Aston-Reese / Teddy Blueger - Matt Cullen- Garrett Wilson
Olli Maatta / Kris Letang
Jack Johnson / Justin Schultz
Marcus Pettersson / Erik Gudbranson
Expected scratches: Chad Ruhwedel (upper-body injury), , Zach Trotman
—We’ll see about the availability of Aston-Reese and Dumoulin, which will likely be two guarded Pens’ state secrets up until lineups have to be submitted.
Who wants to be a hero?
Lighthouse Hockey had this intriguing nugget about the Pens in another preview piece they did:
While it is true that Sidney Crosby, Evgeny Malkin, and Kris Letang are capable of taking over this series in various ways, somehow neutralizing each of the three star players does not necessarily mean the Isles will take the series.
In fact, in the 527 minutes the Penguins have played without any of the trio on the ice the past 25 games they have taken 52% of all shot attempts, 56% of scoring-chance attempts, and 62% of high-danger attempts, resulting in a 57% expected goals percentage over that span (score-and-venue adjusted).
In addition to game-planning against the Penguins’ exceptional skaters, the Isles will also have to find ways to exploit the Penguins’ role players, who have been performing well at 5v5 lately.
A lot of the great stats can probably be chalked up to the recently-split line of Simon-Bjugstad-Hornqvist, which really did well dominating possession. It will be very interesting to see how these depth players do in this series.
We know the Isles with a strongly coached defensive structure is definitely not going to trade odd-man rushes with the Pens and play wide-open, end-to-end hockey. This is going to be a very tightly contested game and series where every inch of open ice will have to be earned and fought for, and fought through layers and levels of defenders.
In this regard, you have to like how the Pens are built these days. In 2016, they were a pure speed team that burned lesser opponents (think the Rangers in that first round series) who simply could not keep up with the talent and wheels of Pittsburgh. That isn’t the case anymore.
By design, Pittsburgh has shifted into wanting to be a more grinding team. Players like Rust, Hornqvist, Bjugstad, Simon, Aston-Reese will forecheck, battle along the boards, keep possession low, and work to wear down opponents. Pittsburgh does have some speed players who can move in open ice, but their identity is becoming more control than quick-strike.
So for Game 1, especially early in front of what will be a raucous and feisty crowd, it would be great to see a non-star punch through and score early. It’ll really set the tone for the series that the Pens intend to not only use their skill advantage over the Isles but have depth options as well.