Well here we are. It has been a unique path this NHL season with the divisional setups and only having a shortened regular season. After all was said and done the Penguins earned home ice advantage in the East Divison by finishing in first place. They avoided the Bruins and Capitals in round one. They will instead begin their pursuit of a sixth Stanley Cup today against the New York Islanders.
The Penguins have had a really nice season to this point. They are playing a team they found a lot of success in the regular. They still have some question marks like most teams. As is usually the case they are injury related. The biggest question mark is the status of Evgeni Malkin.
He is clearly not 100% and that isn’t good. There is no easing your way back into things during the playoffs. The intensity is what it is. You either sink or swim and if Malkin’s knee isn’t up to the task he won’t be effective. The big sign things aren’t good is he wasn’t practicing with the power play
The Jeff Carter trade has obviously paid dividends so far with him providing excellent depth scoring in a third line role. The other benefit of adding him is his ability to jump up in a pinch and keep things on track. This lineup without Carter if Malkin is unable to go would have been severely compromised. With Carter they have a better chance of working through a Malkin injury.
Freddy Gaudreau’s emergence as a competent depth forward was another nice development. You don’t see Mark Jankowski’s name anywhere in the line rushes as it should be. Probably doesn’t happen without Gaudreau.
After a horrible start to the season both Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith really turned things around. If one had a rough patch the other one could go in to help out. This isn’t an option at the moment. DeSmith did not skate today and is out with a lower body injury. mike Sullivan has stated he is day to day and it is related to the injury that kept DeSmith out in the final few regular season games. DeSmith left practice the other day after tweaking whatever the injury was. This of course is going to put some added pressure on Tristan Jarry who will be making his second career playoff start today. Max Legace will be backing up Jarry and it would take injury are a horrendous performance to see him.
While the Penguins did go 6-2 against the Islanders it leaned into shooting percentage and save percentage. Pittsburgh's PDO this year against the Islanders was 1033 split between a 94.24 save percentage and a 9.09 shooting percentage. Both were a division best against the Islanders. As far as CF% and xGF% it wasn’t as good. Pittsburgh had a 49.93 shot share against the Islanders and the xGF% was only 45.74. The Sabres, yes those Sabres, had an xGF% against the Islanders of 45.11. Pittsburghs high-danger CF% was only 41.78 so Pittsburgh wasn’t owning the volume or quality. They were making the most of their chances. When you are leaning into your shooting percentage for success it can make you look like a million bucks or it can make you look pretty horrendous if the volume of chances is low. Only time will tell to see which version we’ll see in round one.
The majority of action will take place at 5v5, but there will be some special teams time to be had. It will be strength on strength and weakness on weakness. The Penguins power play and the Islanders penalty kill being the strengths while the Penguins penalty kill and the Islanders power play being the weakness. If Pittsburgh is able to get their power play going it will be a big advantage in the series. Even without Malkin the power play has shown to be in good hands with Jared McCann filling in.
Let the games begin.
Thanks for reading!