May 14—Interesting comments about the Penguins from New York Islanders coach Barry Trotz didn’t stop with his noteworthy quote regarding their inexperience in net.
During his postgame remarks Monday night after his team lost to the Boston Bruins in its final regular-season game, Trotz was asked what might be different about Penguins coach Mike Sullivan’s team now as opposed to when the Islanders played them so often early in the season.
After all, six of the eight games between the clubs occurred before March 1. At that point, the Penguins were just 11-8-1 and had yet to go on their extended hot stretch through March, which saw them win 12 times in 16 games.
“Systematically, I don’t think there’s a lot of change,” Trotz said, acknowledging it’s been a while since he’s had to study the Penguins. “We’ll look at that. But with Sully and the Penguins, they aren’t going to change their style a whole lot.”
Well, if the Penguins haven’t changed their style, they’ve at least changed their approach to the game and how diligent they are in honoring it.
And it’s working out.
The team’s recognition of score and situation, risk management, fundamental play and decision making — at the blue lines and in the neutral zone — have been instrumental in its climb to the top of the East Division.
Not to mention more depth of speed and mobility from the defensemen (when Mike Matheson is healthy), akin to what we saw in the Stanley Cup years of 2016 and ’17.
Also, the club once again has third and fourth lines that bring speed, largely due to this year’s acquisitions of Kasperi Kapanen and Jeff Carter. Plus, a power play that may have embraced the approach of a shoot-first mentality while Evgeni Malkin was out.
Let’s see if that continues during the series, whenever Malkin is healthy enough to play.
These are things that haven’t happened overnight. Actually, those elements of the Penguins’ “system” or “approach” have been sources of complaint dating all the way back to the franchise’s four-game elimination at the hands of Trotz’s Islanders in the first round of the 2019 playoffs.
So if Trotz is simply under the impression the Penguins haven’t changed all that much since then — or at least since February — then that’s probably a good thing for the Penguins.
Because Trotz might be surprised.
However, my guess is Trotz is far more aware of that than he is letting on, especially given that the two most recent games between the teams illustrated what the Penguins can do in a best-case scenario on both ends of the spectrum, offensively and defensively.
Sullivan’s team won 6-3 on March 27 and 2-1 on March 29. In the first game, the Penguins got two goals on the power play, four total from top-line players Sidney Crosby and Brian Rust (hat trick) and two from depth forwards Frederick Gaudreau and Evan Rodrigues.
In the second game, the Penguins limited New York to just 24 shots, blocked 14 shots and were plus-8 in the faceoff circle.
The biggest negative in that two-game set was the combined 21 giveaways the Penguins yielded. That’s something the Islanders often coax out of the Penguins and something vital for their success offensively.
If that’s one area in which the Penguins are similar to the way they’ve been in years past, then Trotz may end up being right. And his team may advance.
“(Our players) have played in those environments against teams that have been stingy defensively,” Sullivan said Wednesday. “You don’t win Stanley Cups unless you understand how to play in those environments. I know our team is very much capable of playing a certain game that can bring us success against any opponent. We’ve just got to make sure that we control what we can to dictate the terms out there and give ourselves the best chance to have success.”
That’s something the Penguins have failed to do their last three playoff series. And something Trotz obviously hopes continues.
I’d argue going 26-7-3 over the last two months is evidence to the contrary. I’ll take the Pens in seven games.
Listen: TribLive Penguins beat writer Seth Rorabaugh joins me for Friday’s podcast. We talk about matchups in the Penguins-Islanders series. Predictions. Some of Barry Trotz’s recent quotes. And we take a look at the Washington-Boston series as well.
Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.