Last year's Flyers series did a number on us. It psychologically damaged us in so many areas. One of those areas involves not having any confidence in the Pens heading into a playoff series. We got to get over it sometime. This series should do the trick.
Here is what we know. The Pens are a better team on paper and on ice. We also know that the Islanders aren't your typical 8th seed. They were another win away from drawing a first-round opponent like the Capitals. But they didn't get that win. They didn't get that extra point in the standings, wherever it was during the regular season, to get out of the 8 spot, and they are now standing on the tracks of the Pens' train, and it's not gonna be pretty.
With our final mention of the Flyers series, we'll say you'd have to be pretty obtuse to completely ignore it. If it's a fluke, it's a fluke. Only time will tell.
And you'd have to be equally obtuse to ignore how much better the Penguins are than the Isles. This series won't be a cake walk, but the better team wins a series 100% of the time.
It still boggles the mind. This is only the second time since 1994 that the Philadelphia Flyers are not in the playoffs. It's only the third time the Devils have missed the playoffs since 1989. Two perennial playoff teams are out of the picture this season, and who took their place? Well, the Maple Leafs...
and the New York Islanders.
We went down memory lane to revisit 1993, and that's probably the only thing prior to this season that's worth looking at. There was the whole Massacre on Long Island and the Johnson/DiPietro fight, but that's all come and gone. We're concerned about the here and now.
And the here and now says that the Islanders didn't luck into the playoffs. If you look at the standings at the bottom of the East, the Islanders ended up 2 measly points away from being the 5th seed. That's not something you just brush off.
Here are some Islanders stats to be weary of
-The Isles were a paltry 10-11-3 at home. But they went 14-6-4 on the road, and that was good enough for, oh, the third-best road record in the National Hockey League.
-Their 68 road goals were the 6th-most in the league.
-Their overall goal total of 135 was 7th-best in the NHL.
-They averaged the third-least amount of penalty minutes per game in the NHL.
Stats like these don't always tell the story, so we're going a little deeper into what makes the Isles tick...
Tavares vs. Crosby/Malkin
If it begins with league MVP candidate John Tavares, the center of the Isles' universe, it ends with Crosby and Malkin. Superstars rise in the playoffs, despite what you've been told. Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby have both answered the playoff bell. They have scored 171 points in 168 games. Crosby will be back in this series at some point, and Malkin seems healthy for the first time all season.
Villain in waiting
Matt Moulson is probably the most under-the-radar forward in the NHL. He has put home 30 goals in three straight seasons, and his 15 goals this year would've had him flirting with that plateau yet again. Moulson has some unreal chip on his shoulder because the Pens gave up his rights after drafting him. If there is a guy that could cause some nightmares, it will be Moulson.
Brad Boyes, Kyle Okposo, and Michael Grabner round out the Islanders who were in the double digits in goals. Speaking of Grabner, he will be lurking this entire seires.
Iginla, Morrow, Dupuis, Kunitz, Jokinen, Neal. Next.
Mark Streit is the Isles' captain and led their defensemen with 27 points, while crossing the finish line with a -14. His advanced stats show some very mediocre play. Aside from Streit and maybe Lubo Visnovsky, if the mention of any other Isles D-man drives a stake in your heart after this series, then something went horribly wrong.
Kris Letang vs. the Isles' top two scoring lines
Letang just bought real estate in John Tavares' mouth. Letang's speed is going to be central in shutting down the Isles' top line especially.
Best match-up for the Penguins
Villain in waiting
If Brian Strait scores a big goal in this series, we're admitting ourselves to Western Psych and listening to Adele CDs for infinity. As you probably know, Strait was placed on waivers by the Pens early this season and was picked up by the Isles. He sees decent minutes, about 17 minutes a night.
Evgeni Nabokov was the Isles' workhorse this season, playing in 41 out of 48 games. Maybe that's part of the reason why the Isles got into the playoffs: a consistent presence in net. He posted a 2.50 GAA with a .910 SV%.
For the Pens, meanwhile, their strategy all season was for MAF to be fresh for this playoff marathon. Fleury has posted a 2.39 and .918 stat line, which is up there with the best numbers of his career.
Fleury's presence in net won't become a huge deal until the Pens get out of this series and get into a true dogfight. But as far as this series is concerned, the Pens' offense will skew any potential goaltending battle.
Who knows how this will go? No one does.
For what it's worth, here are the Pens' stats from this season's five games against the Isles:
Power Play: 3 for 14 (21%)
Penalty Kill: 16 for 18 (89%)
This series comes down to one simple question really. Can the Isles beat the Pens 4 times in 7 tries? Nope. The Pens haven't lost 4 in any 7-game stretch all season long.
Take a look at the Pens' results this season. When they lose, the losses come in pairs. Of the 12 Pens' losses this season, 10 of them came in 5 pairs.
We could see the Isles maybe squeaking out one victory early, but there's no way in Hell they win four.
If the Isles get this series to game 6 on the Isle, all bets are off. Games 6 and 7 being back-to-back is a huge looming factor in this series. If it goes six, the Pens will already be deemed beatable, and anything will be possible.
Pens in 5, though.