In a series where special teams could be a deciding factor, Islanders’ penalty kill has been flat out dominant. The league’s sixth-best penalty kill, which went 83.7% on the year, has gone a perfect 5 for 5 against a deadly Penguin power-play unit that ranked fourth-best in the league with a 23.7% success rate.
Considering how tight this series has been, the penalty kill is going to need to stick to their ways. What exactly has made the Islanders penalty kill so successful so far this series? Well, I think it could be a combination of things.
The Islanders have been aggressive defending at the point and have not been allowing the Penguins to easily penetrate the defensive zone. They are winning the races to the puck, winning battles in the corners, and making good use of their sticks.
The unit has been boosted by the play of defensive specialist Leo Komarov, who has been active and physical all series. The veteran forward has been making smart plays clearing the puck out, clogging the neutral zone, and is showing some good gap control. In addition, the team is doing an excellent job closing the shooting lanes. Scott Mayfield has been terrific in this area and was a shot blocking machine on Tuesday night. Staying in good position and keeping everything to the outside, has also frustrated the Pens’ ways of attacking the net.
We can’t forget about the goaltenders. Those guys who are usually the best penalty killers — Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov — have done their jobs between the pipes, but the players in front of them have made it easy so far. Lastly, the absence of Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin could also be making things a bit easier for the penalty killers.
Malkin, who has 4 power-play goals and 9 power-play points (1 against the Islanders) this season, is a huge missing key piece for the Penguins and with the man-advantage.
It will be interesting to watch the impact Malkin will have when he ultimately returns to the lineup, but hopefully, the Islanders can stay dominant and shut down the Penguins’ prolific power-play.
The one thing that the Islanders need is to generate momentum from their kills. In Game 2, after a strong kill that resulted in zero shots allowed the Penguins seemed to gain momentum and began peppering Varlamov with several shots.
If the team can get an energy boost from their shorthanded play, it could make a big difference in the series and hopefully bring the team much-needed offense.
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