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Islanders' most important task in first round will be trying to cancel out Sidney Crosby

Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby skates behind the net

Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby skates behind the net protected by Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021, in Pittsburgh.  Credit: AP/Keith Srakocic

Sidney Crosby has not been kind to the Islanders in the course of his Hall of Fame career.

And while the Islanders-Penguins first-round series, which opens Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh, will not be determined by one player, even one as great as Crosby, trying to contain No. 87 must be at the top of the Islanders’ priorities.

Crosby has 39 goals and 83 assists in 75 career regular-season games against the Islanders, the most points for any active NHL player against another team. That includes three goals and six assists in eight games this season.

"It’s a lot of things," said defenseman Adam Pelech, who along with top-pair partner Ryan Pulock figures to draw the bulk of the assignments against Crosby’s line. "He’s been that dominant over the course of his career. It will be the whole group, all five guys on the ice and the goaltender. It’s a challenge, but we’re looking forward to it."

The Islanders did not practice on Friday and will have one more session Saturday at Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow before departing for Pittsburgh.

"It’s a tough job to do," Pulock said. "He’s a world-class player and he’s been one of the best players in this league for a lot of years. It’s not an easy task. We’ve just got to play hard, defend hard and be smart."

The Islanders did have success against Crosby and his Penguins the last time the teams met in the playoffs. Crosby was held to one assist and was a minus-4 as the Islanders swept the Penguins in the first round in 2019, Barry Trotz’s first season as Islanders coach. Crosby had three goals and six assists in five games as the Penguins beat the Islanders in six games in the first round of the 2013 playoffs.

In these playoffs, Crosby again is working with two wings in Bryan Rust and Jake Guentzel whose games he has elevated while they have complemented his playmaking and skating abilities.

Plus, the Penguins, like the Islanders, are deep down the middle. In addition to Crosby, they have Evgeni Malkin, Jeff Carter and Teddy Blueger centering lines.

"You can’t just focus in on one line," Trotz said. "They’ve got three, even four lines that are capable of scoring. You don’t really get a break when you have a lineup like that. We’re going to have to be detailed in our defensive game. We’re going to have to be on the right side of the puck. And we’re going to have to make good decisions with the puck."

The Islanders, like other teams, have been trying to keep up with Crosby for a long time.

He’s won three Stanley Cups since entering the NHL as the top overall pick in 2005 and, at 33, shows barely any hints of slowing down. If anything, Trotz said Crosby’s game has improved as he’s matured.

"Everybody is," Trotz said when asked whether Crosby is different from 10 years ago. "Sid is world-class. I think he’s the gold standard in terms of how he handles coaches, other players, the media. How he’s represented the league so many times.

"He’s just worked on his game. He’s a smarter player. He’s way better defensively as a forward at this age than when he first came into the league. He can still score. He can still skate. He’s strong. He’s very intelligent as a player. All those experiences made him as complete a player as there is in the National Hockey League. And he’s done it for a long time."

Crosby vs. The Islanders

Regular Season

Games Goals Assists

75 39 83

Most points (122) by any active NHL player against another team.

Playoffs

Games Goals Assists

9 3 7

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