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Islanders vs. Penguins Preview: Comparing the defenses

May 15, 2021, 12:40 AM ET [25 Comments]
Ben Shelley
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The New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins will kick off their first round playoff series in a little under 36 hours. Leading up to Game One, I’ll be comparing the team’s lineups, with this article focusing on the defense groups.

The Penguins still rely heavily on 34-year-old defender Kris Letang, who finished tied for third in the league in points among defenders. He’s joined by Brian Dumoulin on the top pairing and the duo takes on by far the toughest matchups for the team on a nightly basis.

Cody Ceci, John Marino, Mike Matheson and Marcus Pettersson make up the rest of the group but again, Dumoulin and Letang will likely face New York’s top forwards in the playoffs. Matheson is also injured and missed time at the end of the year so as of now, his status is unclear. The four defenders were all fairly decent for the Penguins but were quite sheltered.

For the Islanders, the biggest offensive contributor on the team’s blue line was certainly Nick Leddy, who managed 31 points in 56 games. With Devon Toews gone, Leddy got a larger role on the power play and even led the entire team in ice time at even strength.

While Ryan Pulock didn’t add as much offense as usual, he and Adam Pelech were still very successful in facing tough matchups. The Pelech-Pulock pairing remains the most important element to the team’s defense group. Scott Mayfield and Andy Greene won’t add much offense but are strong defensively, while Noah Dobson also took steps this season, though he was still used in a small, highly offensive role.

Though each team will rely heavily on their top pairing in the postseason, I think the Islanders also have the better overall depth. Pelech and Pulock were very effective once again this season but the Islanders can also count on their second and third pairings to be generally quite reliable. New York’s group, when at their best, is one of the best defense groups in the league. While Pittsburgh has the advantage up front, the Islanders head into the series with the better defense group.

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Which team do you think has the better defense group?

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