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Get to Know the Islanders: Top-Six Forwards

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Analyzing what we can expect from the Penguins first round playoff opponent on the top half of their forward lineup.

NHL: New York Islanders at Pittsburgh Penguins Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

While it has been well documented that Barry Trotz has done a remarkable job of getting the New York Islanders depth players to buy into a structured system and compete despite less overall talent, the top half of the forward lineup for this Brooklyn (and sometimes Nassau) based team is more lethal.

Let’s get to know them a bit.

First Line

Anders Lee - Mathew Barzal - Jordan Eberle

While Lee has been around for a while and was a part of some past Penguins-Islanders tilts, Barzal striking onto the scene a year ago could endear himself to Penguins fans as a new type of pain in the ass that come as a result of playoff series matchups. Eberle playing meaningful hockey in April? Couldn't have been in Edmonton.

Per Natural Stat Trick, the three players have logged nearly 200 minutes of ice time as a trio, and when they did, it’s been largely successful. Shot attempt metrics while these three on the ice favor the Islanders at a near 55 percent clip, with shot metrics and scoring chances in the same ballpark. As far as goals go, the trio is controlling 66 percent of the goals scored while they are on the ice. This will be a matchup to look for. Surely while the Islanders at home, Trotz will be looking to get this line away from Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and aim at matching them against the Penguins depth lines.

Player to watch: I mentioned this a little bit ago, but Barzal. Ironically enough, the draft pick that originally belonged to the Penguins, traded to Edmonton for David Perron, then traded to the Islanders for Griffin Reinhart (LOL) became Barzal, and what a player he is. The 21-year-old didn't quite match his dynamic output from his 85-point campaign a year ago, but still managed to log 65 points on an Islanders team that isn’t quite known for it’s offensive firepower. He’s a star in the making.

Second Line

Josh Bailey - Brock Nelson - Michael Dal Colle

As a trio, these three have just recently starting playing all at the same time. In a small sample of about 55 minutes of ice time, they aren’t playing poorly but not they’re not playing great either. Their shot attempt and shot metrics are just a shade below 50 percent, so there is room for improvement there, and is something the Penguins first and second lines could potrntially capitalize on.

The duo of Nelson and Bailey with Dal Colle removed played more often together and their numbers weren’t stellar either: 47 percent Corsi metrics while controlling 70 percent of the goals. Doesn’t seem sustainable if you ask me!

Player to watch: Bailey. This guy seems like he’s played for the Islanders forever, and he kind of has. He’s one of two players from the 2011 team that was involved in the brawl with the Penguins. Bonus points if you know the other (Just kidding, it’s Matt Martin, with a stop in Toronto in between times on Long Island.) As he has aged and is now close to 30, he still keeps producing. Over the last few years, he’s gone from a 35-50 point player to a 55-70 point player. Seems like he’s happy on the Island, as he’s locked up for another five years at a $5 million annual cap hit. Great player.

Overall Thoughts

It might seem ultimately simple, but it feels like this series could come down to line-matching and how well the depth lines on each team handle the top-heavy talent. We know that the Penguins can score in bunches with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Jake Guentzel, and company. On the other side of the coin, the Islanders have a lot of capable talent in Mathew Barzal, Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, and Josh Bailey. How Mike Sullivan and Barry Trotz work the pairings and lines to get the best matchups could prove to be the deciding factor.

When it comes to the playoffs, one shift can change an entire game or decide an entire series, and being able to get stars like Crosby or Barzal away from one another and on the ice against a bottom line or bottom pairing could be a huge factor.