Going into the first round playoffs series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the IslesBlog crew broke down what will be the X-Factor for this series from an Islanders perspective. Although this season was filled with all kinds of ups and downs, the crew is optimistic that these factors will play a huge role in the Isles’ advancing past against a tough Penguins outfit.
The Penalty Kill
Matt Watling (Contributor): The Isles need to win the special teams battle to even have a shot at winning the series given how poorly they’ve produced, and it starts when shorthanded. The Penguins have plenty of offensive firepower, especially when Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang together. It’s a unit that is dangerous but needs to be stopped. Look for the Pens to score a goal or two on the power play in tight around the crease. so the Isles need to park a big defenseman right in front to clear the way.
The Power Play
Carter Bentivegna (Contributor): This might seem like a no-brainer, but the Isles’ man-advantage is going to be a massive part of whether or not they can pull out a series win. Sitting at sixth-best in the league with a rate of 83.7%, we all know the Islanders’ PK is one of their strong spots. The area of concern is their power play, ranked 21st at 18.8%. The Penguins have struggled mightily on the penalty kill this season, as they’re currently sitting 27th out of 31 teams at 77.4%.
Without Anders Lee playing at the net mouth, it might be a bit tough to come by goals for the Isles. But with the right crew out there something like that can change in an instant. I’d personally like to see what “shoot first” guys like Oliver Wahlstrom can do in this series. If there’s one thing the Isles power play could use its shots on goal, and guys like the Wahligator and Ryan Pulock bringing it.
Sal Farieri (Contributor): He had a solid 21-point regular season with the team and had plenty of bright moments. As great as the Islanders’ defense has been this season, the Penguins and their high octane offense made them pay and they will get their share of scoring chances in the upcoming series. That said, the Isles will need scoring and will need the rookie to produce to find success. The team is 12-4-2 this season when Wahlstrom registers a point. He has a deadly shot that will be needed to find the back of the net, especially on the Power play, in a series that could come down to special teams. The playoff experience for him will be invaluable and I think he comes through as the bright spot on that third line in this series.
— IslesBlog (@IslesBlog) February 28, 2021
James Nichols (Co-Editor-in-Chief): It wasn’t until after the Islanders and Penguins met for the final time this season that Wahlstrom broke out. His shoot-first mentality and lethal shot give the Islanders a weapon on the power play against a mediocre Penguins penalty kill, and he should continue to score 5-on-5.
Ethan Greenberg (Contributor): This can be considered a boring choice because in the playoffs, goaltending is always the X-factor. However, this series the Isles’ biggest advantage is in net. Tristian Jarry and Casey DeSmith are both inexperienced and put up average numbers this season. If Varlamov plays like he has for most of the season, he can flip the series on its head and give the Isles a great chance at bouncing the Pens in the first round for the second time in three seasons.
Ryan Dunnigan (Contributor): I wanted to go a bit off the beaten path here but couldn’t turn away from the obvious X-factor for the Isles, Semyon Varlamov. Varlamov has had an outstanding season and gives the Isles their biggest matchup advantage in this series. Also considering how deadly the Penguins shooting percentage has been this season, the Isles are going to count on Varly to make timely saves throughout what looks to be a long series.
Eric Vogel (Contributor): If he’s been saving it up to play in the playoffs like a guy who’s about to get a new contract, he could be the difference between a return to the ECF and a 1st round exit.
Brooks Simpson (Contributor): If he finds his touch around the net, the Isles will have the balanced attack they need to prevail.
— Rob Taub (@RTaub_) May 9, 2021
Bri Repetto (Contributor): Once he gets started, Beau seems to throw the points up on the board like it’s nothing. He’s also one of the more consistent players on the team going into the postseason for the Isles, so I think they’ll fare pretty well with him in the playoffs.
Ben Mandell (Contributor): It’s a lot to ask for someone to be better than Sidney Crosby, but for the Islanders to win this series, he has to be. Star power is important in the playoffs and the Islanders star needs to shine bright on a stage with the league’s best.
— IslesBlog (@IslesBlog) February 12, 2021
Dani Mohr (Contributor): If there was ever a time for Barzal to step up, it’s now. Aggressive offense will be a key factor heading into this series, and his leadership could be a huge turning point. In eight games played against Pittsburgh this season, he recorded six points including three goals and three assists with 26 shots on goal. The Penguins will have the home-ice advantage, which will give assets like Crosby an advantage, but will also put Barzal to the ultimate test. Especially on the power play, scoring is important now more than ever for the Isles advancement. At this point, the mentality must be Stanley Cup or bust.
Daniel Friedman (Columnist): He was a huge part of last year’s run and made some mesmerizing plays to create offense. They need the depth. They don’t have a Crosby.