The New York Islanders will be competing in a slightly altered division when the NHL season begins in under a week. Leading up to opening night, I’ll be looking at how the Islanders’ roster compares to other teams in the East Division.
We’ve already released two articles in this series, which you can read here:
In today’s article, we’ll assess how the Islanders compare against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, when healthy, are still two of the world’s best players. Jake Guentzel was also averaging more than a point per game before his 2019-20 campaign was cut short by injury, while Jason Zucker put up good numbers after being acquired from the Minnesota Wild and Kasperi Kapanen will give the Penguins another option in their top-nine.
We can expect that Bryan Rust won’t continue on his point-per-game pace from last year but he, along with the likes of Jared McCann and Brandon Tanev, provide solid depth.
The Islanders unfortunately don’t have the firepower to match Pittsburgh’s offense. New York still has some holes in their forward group and while they’re set at center, they’re still a little ways off from having as strong of a forward group as the Penguins do.
Kris Letang was still playing nearly 26 minutes per game with the Penguins last season and should be counted on in a large role once again. Brain Dumoulin and Marcus Petersson can both provide defensive stability, while John Marino also had a strong rookie season. Despite buying out Jack Johnson, however, issues are present with their two additions in Cody Ceci and Mike Matheson, who probably aren’t going to be much better defensively.
The Islanders don’t use any one player as much as the Penguins use Letang but likely have the more well-rounded group, led by Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock. While Noah Dobson didn't look comfortable in his own end at times last season, I think the Islanders are still better off with their group than the Penguins will be with Ceci and Matheson.
After trading away Matt Murray, the Penguins are banking on Tristan Jarry becoming a legitimate starting goalie. Casey DeSmith hasn’t played an NHL game since the 2018-19 season but he does have a .917 save percentage across 50 career games and could make for a solid backup. Considering Jarry has also only played 61 career games though, the Penguins will be heading into the season with an inexperienced tandem. For the Islanders, Semyon Varlamov was solid in his first season with the team and has considerably more experience than Jarry and DeSmith. Ilya Sorokin could turn out to be a star but even if that’s not the case, Varlamov is capable of playing a high number of games. The Penguins are betting on Jarry after only one strong season and as a result, I think the Islanders are looking better in net.
You never really want to bet against the Penguins but the key for them will be staying healthy. Another will be goaltending and whether Tristan Jarry can pick up where he left off. If Jarry can’t replicate his 2019-20 season, the Islanders could be the better team but right now, it’s hard to predict who will finish higher in the standings.
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Here’s today’s poll question (results and discussions will be posted in a future article):
Do you think the Islanders will finish ahead of the Penguins in the standings this season?