The East Division seeds are set. The Boston Bruins beat the New York Islanders and filled out the East Division playoff brackets on Monday night. After beating New York 3-2 in OT, Boston will draw the Washington Capitals in Round One and leave the fourth-place Islanders for the division-winning Pittsburgh Penguins.
The series will be a rematch of the 2019 Penguins ill-fated Round One loss to the Islanders, who swept them in four games.
At least the Penguins won’t have to go through both Washington and Boston. So, if the Penguins do advance to Round Two or the final four, there may be a few bodies left.
The Capitals vs. Bruins should be a heavy series, eh?
The Penguins won six of eight games against the New York Islanders this season.
The Penguins won both of the last two games against the Islanders, March 27 and March 29. For PHN+ subscribers, you can get a head start on the opposition research with the full breakdowns and report cards. On March 27, the Penguins scorched the Islanders, 6-3, then smothered them 2-1 on the 29th.
Of the four East Division playoff teams, the Penguins had the most regulation wins against the Islanders (4) and won six of the eight games. The Penguins also had six wins against the Washington Capitals, but only two regulation wins.
The Penguins scored 3.25 goals per game against New York but allowed only 2.38, which was also the Penguins’ best mark against any of the four East Division playoff teams.
The NHL announced the Boston vs. Washington series would begin on Saturday but did not announce a start date for the Penguins vs. Islanders series, though a good bet would be Sunday at PPG Paints Arena.
The Penguins did have on-ice workouts on Monday.
The highlights included full cages, quick steps, and knees that appeared healthy. 13 Pittsburgh Penguins skaters and three depth goalies hit the ice for the team’s first post-season on-ice workout on Monday, including a few of the injured Penguins who could make the Penguins the deepest team in the East Division playoffs.
Fully healthy, the Penguins might well be the deepest team in the East Division. Really.
Evgeni Malkin skated with no apparent lingering effects of his lower-body injury, which forced him to miss the third period of the Penguins 1-0 win last Saturday against Buffalo.
Defenseman Mike Matheson joined the team for the first time since he was hit in the face by a puck on May 1 against the Washington Capitals. Matheson had a full cage, as photographed by PHN. Last week, head coach Mike Sullivan indicated Matheson’s injury did not require surgery.
Matheson’s speed and production bolstered the Penguins’ blue line. While his totals (5-11-16) in 44 games were not eye-popping, his ability to create and join the Penguins rush created his best plus/minus rating (+9) of his career.
And Evan Rodrigues skated on Monday, too. Rodrigues earned a place in the Penguins’ bottom six but was shuffled around the lineup as the Penguins dealt with a myriad of injuries. Rodrigues scored 14 points (7-7-14) in 35 games. Sullivan has an interesting decision between adding Frederick Gaudreau and Evan Rodrigues, assuming Brandon Tanev will be cleared and ready for Game 1.
The Penguins will practice again on Tuesday morning. Perhaps we’ll get a clear picture of the lines. Here is the PHN Penguins lines projection:
Pittsburgh Penguins Lines Projection:
Guentzel – Crosby – Rust
Zucker – Malkin – Kapanen
McCann – Carter – Gaudreau
Aston-Reese — Blueger — Tanev
We’re betting on Gaudreau over Rodrigues because of his recent run of assists and faceoff ability. Gaudreau has been hard on the wall and created turnovers on the forecheck. However, Rodrigues’s speed and tenacity would fit very well on the RW with Carter, too.
Perhaps Mike Sullivan can’t lose with either decision.
We’re also gambling that Tanev will rejoin Teddy Blueger’s line, not Jeff Carter’s line. Blueger’s line needs a boost. Blueger had four points in four games (2-2-4) from April 17-22 but was scoreless for eight of the last nine games.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have won exactly one postseason game in the past two seasons. The dubious sweep by the New York Islanders in 2019 followed by the meek three games to one bubble exit to the Montreal Canadiens (for which PHN was the only Pittsburgh outlet to spend a month in Toronto quarantining and covered a whopping four games).
We’re about to find out if the Penguins have the heart left for a championship run or if a rebuild is absolutely necessary. But that’s the following column for later this week.