Penguins face serious first-round test in ‘stingy’ Islanders
Moments after their regular season ended with a 4-3 overtime loss to the New York Rangers on Saturday night, the Pittsburgh Penguins immediately turned their attention to a more pressing matter.
How are they going to score enough goals to beat the New York Islanders in the first round of the playoffs?
The Penguins earned a date with the second-place Islanders by securing third place in the Metropolitan Division with the point they were awarded for Saturday night’s overtime loss.
The upstart Islanders lost John Tavares in free agency in July but finished three points ahead of the Penguins in the regular season thanks to a resurgent defense under first-year coach Barry Trotz. They went from the worst defense in the league, allowing 3.57 goals per game last season, to the best in the league this year, allowing 2.36 per game.
Goalies Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss both finished in the top five in the league in save percentage.
“They’re a very stingy team defensively,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “They’re tight checking. They’re one of the better teams in the league as far as goals against, and that’s been their identity this year. (It) has been a defense-first mindset and they’re a team that’s hard to play against.
“We’re going to have to make sure we have an element of patience with our game. We’ve got to take what they give us. We’re going to have to compete every bit as hard. We’re going to have to make sure we have a discipline to our game, that we play within some structure.”
The Penguins and Islanders split four regular-season meetings in a series that wrapped up by Dec. 10. Each team won once in a shootout. The Penguins held a slim 12-11 lead in aggregate scoring.
“The type of hockey they play is a playoff style. It’s tight,” Sidney Crosby said. “They don’t give up a lot. You look at the games we played against them. You’ve got to earn the space that you create out there. I think they’re defensive-minded, but they can score, too. They have depth. It’ll be a good challenge for us, but it’s the best time of year. We’ve played some good hockey here moving into the playoffs, so that’s something we can feel good about and feel confident.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review assistant sports editor. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .