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Penguins Trends, and How the Islanders Can Win This Playoff Series

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The Islanders will have to avoid the dangerous Penguins power play, and find areas to leverage 5-on-5.

Pittsburgh Penguins v New York Islanders
Pressure him.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Note: As we continue our look ahead at the Islanders-Penguins playoff series, Travis dives into a couple of areas that have been frequently raised: The Penguins’ dangerous power play, and the Islanders’ ability to suppress shots and beat teams at 5v5.

The Penguins are on a nine-game winning streak when they have outscored opponents on the power play. Reverse-chronologically:

  • 4-1 v DET (2-0 for PP goals)
  • 5-2 @ NYR (1-0)
  • 3-2 @ DAL (1-0)
  • 5-0 @ BUF (3-0)
  • 5-3 v WSH (2-0)
  • 4-2 v BOS (1-0)
  • 3-0 v CBJ (1-0)
  • 3-2 v FLA (1-0)
  • 5-1 @ MTL (1-0)

Since the Islanders have not been great converting with the man advantage or preventing opponents from doing so, as Carey stressed in his “10 Things to Watch,” it is imperative that they stay out of the penalty box. If there are more than a handful of power play goals this series, it is unlikely orange-and-blue will come out on top.

Without Crosby, Malkin, and Letang on the ice at 5v5, PIT haven’t been pushovers the past couple months.

While it is true that Sidney Crosby, Evgeny Malkin, and Kris Letang are capable of taking over this series in various ways, somehow neutralizing each of the three star players does not necessarily mean the Isles will take the series.

In fact, in the 527 minutes the Penguins have played without any of the trio on the ice the past 25 games they have taken 52% of all shot attempts, 56% of scoring-chance attempts, and 62% of high-danger attempts, resulting in a 57% expected goals percentage over that span (score-and-venue adjusted).

In addition to game-planning against the Penguins’ exceptional skaters, the Isles will also have to find ways to exploit the Penguins’ role players, who have been performing well at 5v5 lately.

When the Penguins have struggled at 5v5, it has often included Marcus Pettersson facing fast and skilled opposing forwards.

Since Gudbranson joined the Penguins 19 games ago, he and Pettersson have played nearly 85% of their 5v5 minutes together. Their possession stats have been impressive, as a duo: 56% atttempts, 60% scoring-chance, and 72% high-danger (score-and-venue adjusted). While the pair has not been particularly sheltered, they also have not been used as the main shutdown duo. (In terms of deployment, think Pelech-Mayfield from a few months back, or even Toews-Mayfield now.)

With Dumoulin injured (game-time decision for Game One), Pettersson-Gudbranson may be called on more as a second pair, or else Maatta-Schultz— who themselves are not the greatest shutdown duo— may be given the task.

When Pettersson has faced fast and skilled opponents, the 22 year-old defenseman has often struggled. In the past 35 games he had trouble in at least 8 specific matchups, in terms of on-ice stats:

  • 3/31 v CAR: 2-9 attempts vs Svechnikov; 0-9 vs Aho.
  • 3/14 @ BUF: 1-4 high-danger vs Sheary/Reinhart
  • 3/12 v WSH: 8-13 attempts vs Kuznetsov/Ovechkin
  • 3/2 @ MTL: 2-8 attempts vs Gallagher
  • 2/13 v EDM: 0-3 scoring-chance vs McDavid
  • 2/5 v CAR: 1-8 attempts vs Svechnikov
  • 2/2 @ TOR: 2-12 attempts, 0-5 scoring-chance vs Nylander
  • 1/19 @ VGK: 1-6 scoring-chance vs Pacioretty/Stastny/Tuch

While Pettersson has substantial puck skills, his one-on-one defending lacks at times.

If this ends up a low-scoring series, it may very well come down to whether Isles can expose the Pettersson-Gudbranson pair at 5v5. Ideally Trotz will want the Barzal + Eberle tandem attacking down Pettersson’s wing, but even the skill of Nelson + Bailey, the speed and tenacity of Cizikas + Clutterbuck, or the slick stick-work of Filppula could create some trouble on the counter.

The Islanders need to be able to attack Pettersson’s wing while he is on the ice. When he has time he can move the puck well, but if the Isles can force Pettersson to make uncomfortable decisions, they may be able to take advantage of mistakes or force the young defenseman to give up possession. This of course holds true facing all Pens defensemen (and vice-versa for Pens against Isles defensemen as well), but it is particularly important given Pettersson’s skill-set and the questionable health of the team’s defensemen as a group.

All stats for this article are via Natural Stat Trick.