Penguins (21-11-2) vs. Islanders (22-8-4)
PPG Paints Arena | Pittsburgh, PA
Saturday, March 27 | 7:00PM Eastern
AT&TSN-P | MSG+ | ESPN+
Welcome back to the replacement weekend gameday, the only gameday that would choose blogging over playing golf 100 times out of 100.
Commit to the game or be consumed by it. Blog is life. Embrace it.
Games lately for the Penguins have really had that playoff feel to them. There’s been a lot of desperation, determination, and purpose on display from the flightless ones, particularly from Sidney Crosby, in an effort to rack up points heading into what will be an absolute gauntlet of a stretch to kick off April.
But before looking ahead to the 6 game road trip, there’s some business to take care of as the Islanders come to town for two huge games to close out March.
With last night’s shutout win over the Devils, the Caps jumped over the Islanders for first place in the division, but the Islanders come into this on a heater, having gone 8-2-0 in their last 10 and winners of their last 3. Their 48 points find them level with the Caps, who have a game in hand.
The Penguins, not too dissimilarly, find themselves 7-2-1 in their last 10, good for 15 of their last 20 points. Winners of their last two and 14-3-1 at home this season, they’re just 4 points adrift from the Islanders and Caps.
Good, wholesome math will tell you that winning both games here against the Isles, iN rEgUlAtIoN, will erase that deficit.
Strangely enough, despite there not being much between these two teams generally, only 2 games have gone beyond regulation this season. The Penguins won both of them and have a dank 4-2-0 record against the Islanders and have won both of the previous games at the Paint Can vs. the Isles.
If that trend is going to continue, it’s going to have to happen without the services of Evgeni Malkin, Jason Zucker, Teddy Blueger, Kasperi Kapanen, and Brandon Tanev, just as they did Thursday night against the Sabres. Mark Jankowski appears set to miss out as well as he was absent from the morning skate.
when u see the injury report pic.twitter.com/ojOeQTCkNJ
— REZ (jon bernthal’s podcast co-host) (@ReZhockeytweets) March 18, 2021
A lot of the Penguins recent success without those guys can wholly be attributed to getting good goaltending from both goalies, a balanced and coming-into-their-own D corps doing the job in front of them, and Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel, and Jared McCann giving teams the business.
For those keeping score at home, Crosby is now up to points in 11 of 13 games in March alone with 6 goals, 13 assists in those 13 games. Thursday night he played the provider after a 7 shot effort on Wednesday, but all of a sudden he’s got 29 shots on goal in all situations in his last 6 games.
Following suit is Jake Guentzel, who also has started to shoot the puck more. His overall shot rates are trending up and tracking similarly to his first two seasons in the league. He’s also getting just over 9 and a half scoring chances per hour of play in all situations and just over 8 at 5v5, both of which are also starting to track similarly to his year over year numbers. His empty netter Thusday night extended his point streak to 5 games and just like Crosby, he’s only been held off the score sheet twice in March with 7 goals and 8 assists over 14 games.
Jared McCann has been The Other Revelation in Malkin’s stead. Only Rodrigues and Crosby have attempted more shots at 5v5 than McCann’s 13 since coming back from injury to go along with his 2 goals and 1 assist. He’s yet to be on the ice for a goal against at 5v5 since coming back, outscoring his opponents 2-0. But with him on the ice, the Penguins are controlling over 55% of the shot attempts and shots on goal, just under 64% of the expected goals, and have generated 24 scoring chances while allowing just 12. So not only is the shot volume there, but the quality is too.
On top of all of that, they are getting some contributions from some of the fringe guys getting Zohorna his first in the show on his first shot is a nice piece of evidence of that.
Without Jankowski, Gaudreau seems most likely to bump up to the 3rd line role, while Drew O’Connor is back after a productive spell in the AHL.
Guentzel – Crosby – Rust
Aston-Reese – McCann – Rodrigues
Sceviour – Gaudreau – Lafferty
Angello – Zahorna – O’Connor
Dumoulin – Letang
Matheson – Ceci
Pettersson – Marino
One thing that would be refreshing is if the Islanders just stopped winning hockey games while the Penguins continued to win them. Many people are saying this.
After this series, they have to see the Capitals 5 times in April, with 4 of them coming on the Island. On a macro level, there will be points lost there that the Penguins can make up, even if these games go the Islanders way.
They have seen some injury issues of their own with captain Anders Lee out for the year with an ACL. Leo Komarov is slated to take his spot on LW1 for some reason.
That reason is Barry Trotz.
The loss of Lee is significant, though. For a team who’s skill starts and stops with just 2/3 of their top 6, losing a guy with 12 goals in 27 games this season isn’t an easy hole to fill, especially for the division’s 5th best powerplay unit.
Shutting down Barzal (9G-16A) will obviously be a big key tonight when you already know Jordan Eberle and Brock Nelson are going to be spotted their usual dickhead points on a 5v5 offense that thrives on point shots from the likes of Pelech and Pulock and a very small area of net front play, though presumably a little less so without Lee.
Once again, though, the Islanders remain a great defensive and goaltending team. They have the 3rd best penalty kill in the division, clicking at 82.4%. No team gives up fewer goals per game than the Isles at 2.21.
At 5v5, they allow the joint 4th fewest expected goals against at 1.95 in the league, tied with the Caps, which also happens to be the joint-best rate in the division. They do allow 52.35 shot attempts against, third most in the division, making them your prototypical Trotz team: control the quality first and foremost; who cares about the volume.
Komarov – Barzal – Eberle
Beauvillier – Nelson – Bailey
Czarnik – Pageau – Wahlstrom
Clutterbuck – Cizikas – Martin
Pelech – Pulock
Leddy – Mayfield
Hickey – Green
It starts tonight.
Catch the Islanders.
All data via Natural Stat Trick