With the Islanders and Penguins rapidly approaching Sunday’s Game 1, here are some keys to their first-round matchup:
Kyle Palmieri: Nobody can fully replace what injured captain Anders Lee does for the Islanders but Palmieri was acquired from the Devils to replace some of the offensive production. Instead, he had two goals in 17 games, continuing a seasonlong decline after notching at least 24 goals in each of his five full seasons with the Devils. His 10 goals in 51 games this season project to just 16.1 over a normal, 82-game slate. Simply put, Palmieri must produce more in the playoffs. Maybe the return of his beard will help.
Tristan Jarry: It’s a given that goaltending is key to any playoff series and the Islanders are seemingly secure with Semyon Varlamov. But this will be Jarry’s first go-round as a playoff starter — he has one game of NHL postseason experience — so how either he or Casey DeSmith or Maxime Lagace responds to the challenge will dictate how far the Penguins can go, the rest of their talented roster notwithstanding. To note: Jarry was 5-1-0 with a 2.41 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage against the Islanders this season.
Road issues: The Islanders had a distinct advantage at Nassau Coliseum at 21-4-3 but struggled to an 11-13-4 road record, the worst among the 16 playoff qualifiers, and were 1-2-2 to finish the season. This is extremely significant since Game 7 will be in Pittsburgh, if the series gets that far.
No speed limit: The Penguins’ speed advantage over the Islanders was plainly evident in their eight-game season series. If the Penguins can continue to navigate cleanly through the neutral zone, it will put immense pressure on the Islanders in their defensive zone.