Pittsburgh Penguins vs. New York Islanders – Playoff Implications Galore


The Pittsburgh Penguins are faced with yet another win-and-in situation tonight at Consol Energy Center when they battle the New York Islanders. The Islanders, another team that was limping into the post season, were able to clinch their spot last night when the Boston Bruins lost to the Florida Panthers.

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The scenario’s for the Pittsburgh Penguins to make the playoffs are convoluted, but can be summed up pretty easily. Earn two points and you’re in. Those two points can either come with a win tonight, a win tomorrow night, or two OT losses. It doesn’t matter how you do it, just get two points.

The New York Islanders are coming to Pittsburgh with the same exact record as the Penguins over their last ten contests. Both teams are 3-5-2 and struggling mightily.

Aside from the post-season implications of this game for the Pittsburgh Penguins, the NHL scoring title is also on the line. Sidney Crosby and John Tavares are currently tied at the top of the scoring list with Dallas Stars Captain Jamie Benn, as all players currently have 83 points.

Don’t think for a second that Crosby and Tavares won’t be thinking about that tonight.  This brings us to players to watch.

Players to Watch – Islanders
John Tavares – Yes, we just talked about it. But, he is clearly someone to keep an eye on tonight as the Isles have little to play for other than seeding and getting their Captain a scoring title.

The Islanders Fore-check – The Pittsburgh Penguins will play with five defensemen once again tonight, as Derrick Pouliot will be out due an injury sustained against the Ottawa Senators. The Islanders have good team speed and an aggressive fore-check so they’ll be looking to wear the Pens down early.

Mar 9, 2015; San Jose, CA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) celebrates with right wing Patric Hornqvist (72) after a goal against the San Jose Sharks during the third period at SAP Center at San Jose. The San Jose Sharks defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 in a shootout. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Players to Watch – Pittsburgh
Sidney Crosby – I know, this one is obvious too. However, keep in mind that if there is a tie for the scoring title the tiebreaker is goals. Crosby will lose out to both Tavares and Benn if that were the case, so look for his motor to be turning tonight as he looks to separate himself from the pack.

Ian Cole – I recently wrote a piece on Cole that you can find here. His tremendous play, mixed with the injuries on the Pittsburgh Penguins blue line is going to force him into an increased role again. It could also include power play time, so don’t be surprised if we see his bomb from the blue line if the Penguins happen to be in a man-advantage situation tonight.

Keys to the Game
The obvious key to the game is sustaining offensive zone pressure, considering they’re shorthanded on the blue line once again. The Pittsburgh Penguins are capable of doing this if they can avoid reverting to chip-and-chase hockey. The Islanders have good-skating defensemen that can transition quickly so chasing pucks isn’t going to keep the pressure off your own defensemen.

Shots, shots, and more shots. Jaroslav Halak is having a rough season. The Islanders have allowed the most goals-against of all Eastern Conference playoff teams and they are 27th in the league for even-strength save percentage. Nothing has to be pretty tonight, just put the puck on net and generate chances.

The Pittsburgh Penguins had an optional skate this morning so we don’t have an indication of lines.  I assume we’ll see little change from the format that started the game against Ottawa, as it seemed to work well.  Even if it was only for twenty minutes.

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