The New York Islanders lost back-to-back games against the Pittsburgh Penguins and have concluded the season series. They only beat the Penguins twice in the regular season, and considering how both teams are shaping up to finish at the top of the East Division, many fans are concerned about the record against their divisional foe. While the Islanders have struggled against their rival and will likely face them in the playoffs in the first or second round, there shouldn’t be a great concern for a team with Stanley Cup aspirations.
Both Teams Are Going to Look Different Come Playoff Time
It is a safe assumption that both the Islanders and the Penguins are not only going to look different in a few weeks, but both teams are also going to be active in the upcoming weeks to improve their rosters. The trade deadline is rapidly approaching, and with the two rosters having weaknesses that need to be addressed, the expectation is for both front offices to make moves to add star players or at least depth players for a playoff run. While the Penguins might be looking to simply add a few lower-line scorers or late pairings defensively, the Islanders are well aware of the scoring absence since Anders Lee was injured and will try to potentially acquire at least a second-line scorer.
Speaking of Anders Lee, a top-line scorer like him being placed on long-term injured reserve is only a reminder that injuries happen and rosters have to change as a result. For both teams, there already have been injuries and will be in the future that will give both teams completely different looks come playoff time. Judging the Islanders’ record against the Penguins in the regular season is an understandable concern, but considering how much will change from now until the playoffs start (when the two teams would presumably meet next), it can’t be a reason for fans to panic.
The Trends Are Misleading
In the NHL, teams look noticeably different from one week to another (sometimes even one game to another). A game from two weeks ago has little impact or implications on a game happening a week from now. For the Islanders and Penguins, the way they played against each other in February has importance, especially with how Sidney Crosby has continued to take advantage of open ice and create for his team.
However, the teams are not only going to look different from a game in February but also play differently. If they meet in the playoffs, both head coaches will make adjustments not just from the regular season games but from the individual games as well. The Penguins have played exceptionally against the Islanders this season, but a lot of what they saw in the previous games won’t be there in a presumable playoff series.
The Islanders Played Well in Losses to the Penguins
The Islanders only beat the Penguins twice, but of the six defeats, four of them were by only one goal, with two of the losses coming in overtime. In many of the losses, it was one misplayed puck or an error in the defensive zone or a defenseman at the blue line not being prepared for the speed of an odd-man rush, The Penguins capitalized on many of these plays, and they would be able to get the pivotal game-winning goal as a result. Likewise, many of the games would have missed opportunities on the offensive end against a defense and goaltending duo in Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith that other teams have been able to expose this season.
The Islanders have shown throughout the season that they are among the best in the East Division and have played well against all their opponents over the course of the year as well. The games against the Penguins were not only close, but they were easily winnable for the Islanders. The little details of the game exposed in the previous eight meetings will not only be addressed if they meet up again, but a good team that can play better will do just that.
Who Should the Islanders Worry About Facing in a Playoff Series?
The Islanders have to be concerned about the Penguins, especially after the recent two-game sweep to cap off the regular-season series. However, if they were to play them in the playoffs, it shouldn’t be as drastic a concern despite their regular-season record saying otherwise. Likewise, the Washington Capitals have played well against them and have yet to lose a game against the Islanders this season, but the two teams will face each other five times in the upcoming month. The East Division has Stanley Cup-caliber teams at the top, making any playoff matchup a tough team to eliminate.
Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November 2020 and covers the New York Islanders. In addition to covering the Islanders, Fink writes about the NHL at large and contributes as a weekly guest to The Hockey Writers Podcast. Follow Mike on Twitter @Finks_thoughts for more Islanders and general hockey insights.