Shutting down star center Sidney Crosby and the rest of the Penguins’ first line was the main topic of conversation for the Islanders prior to the start of the first-round series against Pittsburgh.
“It’s a lot of things,” defenseman Adam Pelech said of containing Crosby prior to the series. “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.”
Having faced the Penguins in the postseason three times now since 2012-13, the Islanders have seen how the outcomes differ when Crosby consistently gets on the score sheet. In the last first-round series in 2019, in which the Isles swept the Penguins in four games, Crosby was held to one assist and was a minus-four.
But during the first round of the 2013 playoffs, Crosby scored three goals and dished six assists in five games as the Penguins defeated the Islanders in six.
The Penguins have scored 11 times this series, with only one coming from the 33-year-old Crosby on his one-handed deflection in the second period of the Isles’ series-opening win in overtime. Crosby hasn’t registered a point since.
“He’s had one goal but he’s dangerous,” head coach Barry Trotz said Sunday before the team traveled to Pittsburgh. “He’s an elite player who plays an elite game night in and night out. We just hope to contain him. The top players like him, I have so much respect for Sid as a player and a person. This is I think the fifth time I’ve being going against Sid in the playoffs myself and he’s an exceptional player and a great example of what an NHL player is in this league. He’s a gold standard.”
The Islanders have successfully kept their structure together and it hasn’t given the Penguins many breakaways or wide-open opportunities. Crosby had a dangerous chance in the second period Saturday, but rookie goalie Ilya Sorokin tracked him the whole way and the Penguins’ MVP wasn’t able to lift the puck.
Not to mention, Crosby is in a four-way tie on the Penguins for the most hits taken this series with 13, according to Natural Stat Trick.
With two power play goals in Saturday’s series-tying win, which included a Penguins’ own goal during four-on-three play, the Islanders are now 3-for-12 with the man-advantage this series.
On the other side of special teams, the Isles have killed off seven of Pittsburgh’s eight power plays. The Islanders are one of four teams competing in the playoffs that have only allowed one goal, while there are only four teams that have yet to allow a man-advantage goal this postseason.
“You see it on five on five and you see it in our game, but I think special teams are all about confidence,” Trotz said. “The only way you get confidence on special teams is you got to be creating chances and you got to be scoring goals. I thought we were able to do that [Saturday].”