Monday, April 29, 2013

Pens draw the Islanders in Round 1; Talk yourself into being scared now

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

The Pens open the playoffs on Wednesday against the New York Islanders.  A few quick thoughts.

Schedule via Puck Daddy
[Insert every caveat imaginable about how nothing is guaranteed, and an 8-seed won the Cup last year, and David Volek, etc.] This is probably the best matchup the Pens could have hoped for.  The Islanders have limited playoff experience, vastly inferior depth, and the Pens have outscored them 16-5 in the last 4 games, all of which the Pens won.

The main things to worry about are: 1) The Islanders have one of the top-5 players in the league and he's only getting better, plus a talented supporting cast 2) Evgeni Nabakov has tons of playoff experience and there's a stat somewhere that shows that Crosby never scores on him; and 3) the Pens are burdened with all of the expectations while the Isles have none.

Don't fight it. Allow Matt Moulson to scare you.
As legitimate as those concerns are, there are easy counters for each.  The Isles have a top-5 guy; the Pens have two of them.  Nabakov has playoff experience; it's not particularly good playoff experience, and even if it was, so does everyone on the Pens.  The Pens are burdened with all of the expectations; that's because they have the better team.

There's a recent parallel for this series that should bring at least some comfort.

In 2007, an ascending Pens team got its first crack at the playoffs against an Ottawa team loaded with veteran talent that was on a run of playoff disappointment.

Here are some things from the ESPN archive previewing that Pens-Sens series:
The theory is this is a psychologically fragile Senators team that has a tendency to cave when the going gets tough. 
The Penguins face a Senators team long on playoff disappointment but equally long on experience and motivation. 
The Penguins give up a lot of chances and are especially susceptible to a strong forecheck. The Senators, second among all playoff teams in goals scored, have enough fire power to make the Pens pay dearly for mistakes. 
And from the Game 1 preview: The Ottawa Senators can see a lot of what they used to be when they look at NHL scoring leader Sidney Crosby and the rest of the Pittsburgh Penguins when the Stanley Cup playoffs begin Wednesday night.
Everything turned out to be true.  The Senators steamrolled -- and I mean steamrolled -- the Pens in a 6-3 game 1 win.  The Pens settled down after to steal game 2 and make the rest of the series competitive, but there was never a doubt about who was the better team.  The Sens won the series in 5 games. The Pens' best days were ahead of them.  The Senators were loaded for a run at the Cup.

We'll have several preview posts leading up to Wednesday.  LGP.


  1. I would much rather have the Sens in the first round. I think the Isles are more talented than the Sens and have a stronger powerplay. As you know, the Pens biggest weakness this year has been the PK.

    Regarding the lines, I have a few thoughts:

    Saturday's game cemented the 18-71-14 line going into the playoffs.

    I also think that the toughest decisions for Byslma will be what to do with JJ and BB. I think JJ has played well enough to bump Cooke down to line 4. Cooke on the 4th makes some sense due to his style of play and the fact that he plays the PK and will make up some of the missed ice time.

    Regarding Bennett, I think he has been far more effective than pig nose (TK) and Glass(obviously)almost every game this season. I doubt Byslma will bench TK and favor of BB because he does not have the stones to do it. At least, TK's propensity to shoot from zero angles will bring some comic relief.

    In sum, the playoff lines should be:


  2. You have some good points.

    It's worth noting, however, that as ugly as the Senators statistics page looks with Kyle Turris at #1 with 29 points (that would be 8th on the Penguins), Erik Karlsson is a legit point-per-game guy. The Ottawa PP is at 15.9%, but with Karlsson, you want no part of it.

    I've always been a believer that Kunitz can produce with anyone, but Crosby produces a lot better when he's with Kunitz. But if putting 14 with 71 is what it takes to wake Geno up, and he is coming alive, then I'm all for it.

    I think Cooke will (and should) stay on the 3rd line with Sutter and Morrow. Jokinen can take some shifts with them, and will see a lot more ice time than a traditional 4th liner because he's a good faceoff guy. He can be brought on to take a draw, but unlike a Mike Zigomanis, you won't have to rush to get him off the ice right away.

    As for Kennedy/Bennett, we'd all prefer Bennett. But in TK's defense, he has been a decent playoff guy, and in a limited role he can be effective. To put it another way, while I'd rather see Bennett than TK, if DB does decide to go with TK, it won't cost us the series.

  3. I agree with Finesse - Jokinen needs to play center (and conversely, Adams should not be; he's better as a wing). Ideally, I'd like to see:

    And I'm going to be optimistic: now that TK has lost his spot on the 3rd line, I doubt Bylsma will be as rooted to using him. If Jokinen plays as a 4th center - I think Bylsma could very likely put BB down there to give that line a series scoring punch. It just make sense; it would be a huge match-up advantage, since 4th lines will often play against each other. I think it's very possible we could see:

    27-36-19 (Watch, though, DB will probably throw out 15-36-27, and we'll all cry.)

    As far as the match-up - bring it. The Isles have a great forward group - but they have a wildly mediocre defense(21st in the league). The PK is also 21st - up against the leagues 2nd ranked PP. And their PP is only middling (11th; 19.9%)- much like the Pens PP was baffling, given their skill, up until this year.

    Granted, our PK has been - bizarre: great some nights, horrific on others; we have no problem killing against some teams, no chance against others. The good news is that the Isles haven't scored a PP goal on our PK since the first game we played against them back in Jan. Even more telling - their 5-5 F/A is only 0.98.

    All of this is to say, they'll score - we'll just score more. I think we'd beat Ottawa - but those games have been far closer this year. Anderson could steal a series. Ottawa is the 2nd ranked defensive team, with the top-ranked PK. Sorry- but that's undoubtedly a harder series - and a much less certain one.

    As far as Nabby - he doesn't scare me in net, although I do think he's solid. And let's remember: Sid never scores on him because he's played like 5 games against him his entire career. So much was made against his numbers against the Pens - you know, until he was in front of this Isles team.

    1. Bylsma seems infatuated with the idea of the Morrow-Sutter-Cooke line. I agree 100% that we go 27-36-19 at the outset, particularly against more of a finesse team like the NYI.

  4. Nothing better than having Brandy in my corner!

    Bottom line is that whether it was Ottawa or the Isles, the Pens should win.

  5. moulson's unibrow scares the bejeesus out of me.