The Pittsburgh Penguins begin their march for the Cup tonight, as hockey analysts around North America have confirmed what all hockey fans have known since the trade deadline: the Pens are the most complete team in hockey. Their quest for the Cup, however, is not a guaranteed success, as their first hurtle to overcome will be the upstart New York Islanders, who are set to make their first playoff appearance since 2007.
From top to bottom, it's hard to argue that Pittsburgh isn't the best team in the NHL. They were dynamic at forward with superstars Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby to start the year, but went out and added some sandpaper in Brenden Morrow, playoff wizard Jussi Jokinen, and some veteran skill in Jarome Iginla. While the Pens will start the series without the services of Crosby, the Pens depth at forward is undeniable. Every line is a threat in the offensive zone. Every line is solid in the defensive zone.
Much like the forward group, the Pens have the second deepest blueline (behind St. Louis) with enough offensive prowess to be active in the offensive zone but a ton of grit in their own end. GM Ray Shero even went out and acquired Thor's brother Douglas Murray to solidify his team's backend at the trade deadline to finalize his roster.
The only thing that could possibly damper the Penguins first round is their netminder, Marc-Andre Fleury. The 28-year-old goalie did his best to impersonate a sieve last year during the first round against the Philadelphia Flyers, delighting NHL fans with one of the most offensively explosive series in recent memory. Even if Fleury falters, the Pens brought in former Nashville Predator Thomas Vokoun. While Fleury will certainly be the starter, Vokoun gives the Pens a very solid option in net should the series start slipping away from them. I don't expect this to be a problem this round, but stability between the pipes could be the downfall of the Pens' Stanley Cup hopes.
If history does indeed repeat itself, the Islanders are going to be in for a very painful series. The Isles were 1-4 against the Pens this year and were out scored 17-9. Yesterday I briefly touched on how the Blues were going to psychologically tackle their inability to beat the Kings. The same goes for the Islanders, but unlike the St. Louis Blues, the Islanders don't have the huge amount of expectations weighing down their shoulders. No one is giving them a chance in this series, which may allow for the team to play loose and not over think things. One thing that the Islanders do have going for them is starting the series on the road. The Islanders were 10-11-3 at home and 14-6-4 on the road. Remember kids, psychology is a powerful thing.
On paper, the Islanders really are an eighth seeded team. They have very little depth at forward or on the backend. The Islanders have seven players with 20 or more points (two above 40) while the Pens have 11 players above that mark. The Islanders are led up front by the dynamic John Tavares, who had a break out year with 28 goals and 47 points. Matt Moulson also had a great year, putting in 15 goals while adding 29 helpers. These two guys will produce for the Isles, but they need more from guys like Michael Grabner and Frans Nielsen in order to keep pace with the Pens.
Defensively, the Islanders are very weak on the blueline. Veterans Mark Streit and Lubomir Visnovsky are going to have their hands full in this series. Fellow defenseman Andrew MacDonald will be relied upon heavily, as he will be matched up with some of the Pens' most dangerous lines.
In net, the Islanders have veteran Evgeni Nabokov backstopping them. I don't know how much game stealing Nabokov can do in his old age, but he may have to perform some highway robbery if the Isles have a chance of making it to the second round.
Pittsburgh: Jarome Iginla. It would be very easy for me to pick Sid the Kid on this one as his return is currently questionable, but I am going to go with Iginla. The savvy veteran has a lot to prove this year, as its his first playoff appearance since 2008-2009 and has only made it past the first round once in his career. The long-time Calgary Flame is considered to be a living legend, but would love to add a Stanley Cup to his legacy.
|2012 - Jarome Iginla||44||14||19||33||-5||31||6||0||3||134||10.4|
New York Islanders: John Tavares. I am going with the easy pick here. Simply put, Tavares has to be the best player on the ice every game for his team to have a chance to win. This season marks the first time Tavares has gotten long overdue praise from NHL pundits, but its time for him to really make his mark on the league.
|2012 - John Tavares||48||28||19||47||-2||18||9||0||5||162||17.2|
Pittsburgh Penguins PP (24.7%, Ranked 2nd), Pittsburgh Penguins PK (79.6%, Ranked 25th)
New York Islanders PP (19.9%, Ranked 11th), New York Islanders PK (80.3%, Ranked 21st)
Pittsburgh Penguins: Dan Bylsma. Four years of playoff experience, one Stanley Cup Final appearances, one Stanley Cup.
New York Islanders: Jack Capuano. Zero years of playoff experience.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Marc-Andre Fleury and Thomas Vokoun
|2012 - Marc-Andre Fleury||33||1858||23||8||8||74||2.39||881||807||.916||1|
New York Islanders: Evgeni Nabokov and Kevin Poulin
|2012 - Evgeni Nabokov||41||2475||23||11||7||103||2.50||1139||1036||.910||3|
New York Islanders vs Pittsburgh Penguins Schedule
|Wednesday, May 1||6:30 p.m.||Pittsburgh||Sports Network, TSN|
|Friday, May 3||6:00 p.m.||Pittsburgh||NBC Sports Network, TSN|
|Sunday, May 5||11:00 a.m.||Long Island||NBC, TSN|
|Tuesday, May 7||6:00 p.m.||Long Island||NBC Sports Network, TSN|
|*Thursday, May 9||6:00 p.m.||Pittsburgh||TSN|
|*Saturday, May 11||TBD||Long Island||TSN|
|*Sunday, May 12||TBD||Pittsburgh||TSN|
OTF Staff Picks
|Dirk||Pittsburgh||Congrats to Isles fans on making it back to the playoffs, but this is Bambi Meets Godzilla.|
|Sam||New York||Islanders always give the Penguins fits. Upset city. Don't appreciate the smug comments around me.|
|Caroline||Pittsburgh||...have you seen the Penguins' lineup?|
|Jonathan||Pittsburgh||Tavares is going to put the team on his back, but will end up like Leonidas at the end of 300.|
|Chris||Pittsburgh||Great job Islanders! You've been rewarded with a first round sweep! Pens in 4|
|George||Pittsburgh||Welcome back to the playoffs, Islanders! Allow me to show you to the first tee.... We'll let you play 4 games first, of course.|
|Jason||Pttsburgh||If the Penguins lose in the first round, I'll eat my hat.|