Penguins' Game 1 victory over Islanders proves to be 'special'
The Penguins believe they are a special team.
They may be if their special teams deliver as they did in the Stanley Cup playoff opener.
Two power-play goals and a perfect penalty kill drove a 5-0 victory Wednesday over the New York Islanders at Consol Energy Center.
The Penguins lead a best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal, 1-0. Game 2 is Friday, also at home.
The result was not unexpected.
Islanders coach Jack Capuano had gone out of his way to remind that the Penguins won 36 of 48 games in a truncated regular season.
Those wins were delivered despite a penalty kill that rated 25th overall — there are only 30 NHL clubs — at less than 80 percent.
The Islanders were around 20 percent on the power play during the season, but they went 0 for 4 with the advantage in Game 1.
“We have huge respect for their power play,” Penguins left winger Matt Cooke said, citing the “high skill level” of young Islanders forwards such as John Tavares and Matt Moulson.
Skill is often trumped by desire in black-and-blue playoff games, and the Penguins played like they wanted this opener.
Defenseman Mark Eaton blocked eight shots.
Winger Tanner Glass scored his first career postseason goal — “a relief,” he said — but was equally satisfied by six hits.
Center Brandon Sutter, in his first playoff game, matched the hit total of bruising defenseman Douglas Murray. They each were credited with five.
Eaton, Glass, Sutter and Murray are part of the penalty kill, which looked like its old self — like before Philadelphia ravaged the Penguins for 12 power-play goals in Round 1 last postseason — for the first time in more than a year.
The Penguins had been a top-three penalty kill in two seasons prior to that series loss to the Flyers. The power play's dominance was overshadowed, though.
The Penguins were 9 for 29 (31 percent) in Round 1 last postseason, and they carried that over into the regular season, which they finished second overall on the power play at 24.7 percent.
They went 2 for 3 in Game 1 before focusing on defense while working a fourth power play late in regulation.
Rookie winger Beau Bennett and defenseman Kris Letang scored power-play goals during the Penguins' race to a 4-0 lead in the first 21 minutes and 51 seconds.
Wingers Pascal Dupuis (twice) and Glass also scored for the Penguins, but the power play's early dominance was crushing to the Islanders.
The Penguins generated seven shots on their three early power plays.
Winger Jarome Iginla, new to the mix after joining the Penguins in a late-season trade from Calgary, set up Letang's power play goal.
Teammates have implored him to shoot more, and he now is comfortable reminding the same of some of them — including center Evgeni Malkin, who placed four shots on net and recorded two assists.
“It's definitely a focus, to put some pucks (on net),” Iginla said. “We're trying to gain momentum off of (the power play), and that's putting shots on the net.”
This series is young, but momentum belongs to the Penguins because they were special in Game 1.
Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.
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