The Penguins won the Metropolitan Division last season. By quite a bit, too — 13 points.
If they plan on doing the same this year, the Penguins will have to handle the upstart Islanders, a team with plenty of skill and one they’ll see five times this season.
“With the couple of additions they had and who they had there before, I think it was only a matter of time,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “I think you’re seeing now they’re having some success because of that.”
Islanders forward John Tavares leads the league in scoring. He also spoke with quite a bit of reverence this morning when asked about challenging the Penguins in the division.
“These teams have been division opponents long before I was here,” Tavares said. “There’s been that, and they’ve been one of the premier teams for awhile now. We’re trying to work our way to getting back to that kind of level of consistency with making the playoffs. They’re a team you have to go through quite a bit. It brings a lot of games, a lot of intense battles, and it’s a lot of fun.”
The Penguins won three of the four games in the series last season, outscoring the Islanders 16-13 and outshooting them 139-117.
Crosby has more points against the Islanders than any other opponent; goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury’s four shutouts against the Islanders are tied for the most that he has against any opponent; and the Penguins’ 62 home wins over the Islanders are the most they’ve recorded over any opponent.
This offseason, the Islanders added names like Boychuk, Leddy and Halak to Tavares, Okposo and Nelson, creating buzz and expectations. They’re one of only two teams in the NHL that has yet to lose in regulation, and their power play is ranked second behind the Penguins.
“We’ve watched them closely the past few days to get a feel for them and the changes they’ve made,” Penguins coach Mike Johnston said. “Certainly their defense has a lot of depth. They spread out their minutes on defense. They feel that they can play their group against anybody, at least their pairings.
“Up front, I see that they counterpunch really quickly. They’re quick in transition, and they’re very quick in the offensive zone. They do have some elite players.”
News out of the skate: Forward Pascal Dupuis was a full participant and joined his regular linemates, Evgeni Malkin and Brandon Sutter. Still, he’ll be a gametime decision; he said he still needs to talk with head coach Mike Johnston and the Penguins’ medical stuff. Curious, though: Per team policy, injured players aren’t available to speak with the media. Dupuis talked. … Defenseman Robert Bortuzzo and forward Beau Bennett skated with strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar and defenseman Scott Harrington prior to the morning skate. Johnson said Bortuzzo will hopefully rejoin practice next week, while Bennett is still seven to 10 days away from rejoining practice in even partial capacity. Both are out with lower-body injuries.
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About the Islanders: The Isles are 4-0-0 to start the season for the first time since 2001-02. They’ve never started 5-0-0. … They added G Jaroslav Halak (trade then sign) and defensemen Nick Leddy (trade) and Johnny Boychuk to drastically improve their back end. … This in addition to skilled forwards in John Tavares, Kyle Okposo and Brock Nelson. Here’s a look at what those guys have produced through four games. It’s ridiculous:
Tavares 2-7—9 (leads NHL in points and assists)
Boychuk 2-4—6 (tied for NHL lead with five power play points)
Halak 3-0-0, 2.92 GAA, .900 SV%
The series: Penguins have won seven of the last eight regular season meetings, outscoring the Islanders 32-18 in those games. … They’re 16-3 in their last 19 home games against New York. … Sidney Crosby has 25-58—83 in 45 career games against the Islanders, the most he’s accumulated versus any one team. … Penguins won three of the four meetings last season, going 5 for 16 on the power play and 11 for 12 on the penalty kill.
Key to the game: Has to be special teams, right? The Penguins have the best power play at 46.2 percent (6 for 13). The Islanders rank No. 2 at 42.9 percent (6 for 14). They’re also the league’s two worst teams on the penalty kill. Pittsburgh is last at 60.0 percent (9 for 15). New York is next to last at 61.5 percent (8 for 13). The Penguins have allowed a power play in every game thus far, including the game-winner for Dallas Thursday with 2.9 seconds left. Expect a high-scoring one, too; the four games last season featured a combined total of 29 goals.
Next up: Penguins vs. Flyers, Wednesday, 8 p.m.