Wednesday night the top seed in the east, the Pittsburgh Penguins face off in their opening round series against the #8 seed New York Islanders. There is a bit of history between these two teams. The fearless leader of Pensburgh.com “Hooks Orpik” (one of the best handles in all of the hockey blogging universe) spends 5 minutes in the box with us discussing the series from a Penguins point of view. Make sure to follow Pensburgh.com on Twitter at @Pensburgh.
1. The Penguins are the team in the Eastern Conference that none of the bottom 3 seeds wanted to face. Between the Isles, Rangers, and Senators, where do the Islanders fall in that group that you wanted to face?
It was between the Islanders and Senators for me- both seeming like favorable matchups for the Penguins given Pittsburgh’s strength on offense and defense and superior depth throughout the lineup, if healthy. I’m fine with the Isles matchup, Pittsburgh is a team with strong Cup aspirations and has a lot of guys on expiring contracts- they were built to win this year. NYI is a very nice story, but terribly inexperienced in NHL (or even AHL) playoffs up and down their roster.
2. The Penguins had an incredible run in the middle of the season in which they won 22 of 24 games. Do you think with the acquisitions of Jerome Iginla, Brenden Morrow, Jussi Jokinen, and Douglas Murray, there will be enough ice time to make everyone happy?
Yes, I think so, because no one has looked for ice-time. Morrow has been placed on a 3rd line and has bought in- he just wants to win. Same with Iginla. And Jokinen (who was on waivers at one point) and Murray fell out of favor in San Jose. All of those guys either have played for losing teams the past few years, or weren’t wanted by their previous teams. I think, to a man, they’re pretty happy to have a place in the Penguins lineup and they realize that the chance to play for such a solid team can be a rare thing. The Pens have had to try some creative things- like playing Iginla on his off-wing, but there haven’t been any complaints. As long as the team wins, you know hockey players, they will just keep doing what they’re told.
3. The last time the Isles and Pens played, Sidney Crosby took a puck to the face and broke his jaw. He hasn’t played since. Can the Pens still take care of the Isles if Crosby is out for any part of this series?
Yes, I think so, because they still have Evgeni Malkin and James Neal, Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis, Iginla and Morrow to power the offense and Kris Letang and Paul Martin are back too. The Pens obviously need Sidney Crosby to go deep in the playoffs, but given that the rest of their roster is close to 100%, that should be more than enough firepower to provide the offense needed to beat a #8 seed.
4. The last time the Islanders won a playoff series was back in 1993. During their run to the Conference Finals they beat a heavily favored Penguins team that was as loaded with talent as this one. Do you think Mario delivers a pre-series talk to his team about what happened?
I don’t think it’s necessary, Lemieux’s pretty hand’s off and the core of this team was around last season for the epic playoff debacle against the Flyers, they don’t need a pep-talk about how it feels to lose in the first round when everyone thought you were headed for a Cup finals appearance.
5. We all remember the game a few years ago at the Nassau Coliseum in which the Islanders essentially decided that they weren’t going to be pushed around anymore. If the Isles decide to play the ultra physical game, can the Pens stay disciplined enough to avoid what happened to them in the Flyers series from last year?
That is a key question. The Penguins will have to remain disciplined, Matt Martin is still around but the Isles don’t have a lot of the same kind of low-level players around from a few years ago (probably why they’re in the playoffs now). Still, players like Letang and Malkin have gotten drawn into post-whistle penalties in the past, and Pittsburgh will definitely have to avoid giving the potent NYI power play and more chances than necessary.
6. With all the offensive firepower the Pens have you don’t hear much about Marc-Andre Fleury in net. How has he played this year?
At first, Fleury was a little shaky- probably the product of not playing during the lockout and not having a regular training camp and pre-season to get into form (like a lot of goalies). But if you look at him from February on he’s 21-6-0 with a GAA around 2 and a save percentage north of .920. Those numbers are about career highs if he could consistently keep if for a full season, but as always consistency is always the question with Fleury who still has to shake the 2012 playoff meltdown from his system.
7. If there is one “weakness” for the Pens it’s their penalty killing. They were in the top third of the league in times shorthanded. Can they stay out of the box enough to limit the Isles power play chances?
This is maybe where the loss of Jordan Staal and Zbyenk Michalek (2 key mainstays from prior years) have hurt. As I alluded to above I think the NYI PP vs the Pens PK could be the key matchup, and definitely getting the better of them there will be a key to how long this series goes. Personnel wise the Pens should be fine they have decent and smart defensive minded players out there, they just need to execute the PK efficiently and get some clears. Of course, it’s pretty easy to just say that and a little different when John Tavares has the puck on his stick, so we’ll see how it goes.
8. Are the Pens fans taking the Islanders seriously?
I don’t really think so, but I don’t think it matters too much because Pens fans don’t have to play the games. On paper it’s a huge advantage for Pittsburgh, so fans are confident. The Pens were 22-3-0 all season long against playoff teams, so it seems like a stretch that a vastly inexperienced Islander team with less depth and defensive ability will be able to beat Pittsburgh more times in 7 games than the Pens lost all season to playoff teams. But crazy things happen in the NHL playoffs, so we’ll see how it goes. I think Pens fans are more just excited to see it all come together. After last year’s big disappointment, the team seems to be constructed to make a run, now the regular season is over and the fun begins.
9. Series Prediction?
Pens 4-1. I’ll give the Isles a win at home in game 3 or 4 as a courtesy to say they won’t be swept, but Pittsburgh ought to make quick work of a team that just doesn’t have any playoff experience and is very over-matched up and down the lineup.