Report Card for Pittsburgh Penguins' 1st-Round Playoff Victory

Michael Prunka@MichaelPrunkaCorrespondent IMay 13, 2013

Report Card for Pittsburgh Penguins' 1st-Round Playoff Victory

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    Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins are favorites in the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs. After conquering the New York Islanders in six games, not much has changed.

    The Penguins got off to a hot start in the postseason by ousting the Islanders 5-0. Marc-Andre Fleury stopped all 26 shots he faced, while Pascal Dupuis netted two goals. The Penguins forwards even managed to chase Evgeni Nabokov from the net less than two minutes into the second period.

    Despite dropping two close games to the Islanders in the series, the Penguins performed well and proved they’re still the team to beat in the Eastern Conference.

Offense: A

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    The Penguins scored a total of 25 goals in six games against the Islanders.

    Pittsburgh’s stars shone throughout the first round. Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jarome Iginla combined for seven of their goals and 29 points. Even more importantly, the team’s depth forwards have stepped up and contributed offensively.

    For one, Beau Bennett opened the scoring for the series 3:30 into Game 1. Tanner Glass’ one goal in the series is a nice contribution, too, considering his status as a hard-hitting fourth-liner.

    Scoring has come from all over the ice, too. The Penguins defensemen have played a valuable role in not only backstopping the team, but also making and finishing plays from the blue line.

    Kris Letang was his usual self, chipping in two goals—both on the power play—and four helpers. Paul Martin’s offensive evolution continued as he scored once and assisted on five more.

    However, among all of the Penguins offensive forces at the blue line, the most surprising throughout their series with the Islanders was Douglas Murray. The massive defenseman has never been regarded as an offensive threat, yet he lit the lamp twice in the series.

Defense: C

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    The Penguins defense was up and down throughout these six games. Some nights it was brilliant and others it was downright hard to watch. That seems to be the average for the Penguins in the playoffs these days, though. Consistency at the blue line has been a problem in the postseason for a while now.

    Defensemen Mark Eaton, Douglas Murray and Paul Martin helped keep the likes of John Tavares and Matt Moulson from testing their netminder by getting down and blocking shots. The three of them combined for 38 blocked shots in six games.

    Possibly the best development in the Penguins’ game this season has been their physicality. Matt Cooke and Craig Adams continue to take the body while guys like Pascal Dupuis and Kris Letang have been finishing their checks more frequently, too.

    Brenden Morrow’s addition to the team makes the Penguins’ third line a gritty and sometimes downright nasty force. Cooke and Morrow combined for 45 hits in six games. That kind of physicality is a difference maker in the postseason.

    Shot-blocking and hitting were emphasized in the Penguins’ first six games of the season. The only problem is that it’s not consistent enough. The Ottawa Senators are better known for their defensive prowess, but the Penguins can’t afford to give Erik Karlsson and company too many offensive opportunities.

Special Teams: A

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    The Penguins were brilliant on both the power play and penalty kill. They successfully converted on seven of 21 man advantages and managed to kill all but two of the 20 chances they gave the Islanders.

    As always, Kris Letang has been an ace on special teams. He has four power-play points and is among the team’s leaders in ice time on the penalty kill. With three power-play assists, Paul Martin has also been a man-advantage force at the back end. He’s also proved he’s a go-to shutdown defenseman on the penalty kill.

    The power play has been especially important for the Penguins thus far in the playoffs. Against the Islanders, two of their four game-winning goals came on a power play.

    The only criticism is that the Penguins can play with a little more discipline. They gave the Islanders four power plays in three of the series’ six games. The Penguins are sure to face better power plays than the Islanders’ regular-season 11th-best unit.

Goaltending: B

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    As expected, the Penguins' goaltending has been hot and cold. Marc-Andre Fleury got off to a great start with a shutout in Game 1. After that, he went on to give up 14 goals in the next three games—two of which were losses.

    Of course, part of Fleury’s problem was the defense in front of him. Game 2 was an ugly game defensively. The Penguins allowed the Islanders to put 42 shots on their netminder—four of which went in. Fleury’s .905 save percentage kept the game close when his defense didn’t do him any favors.

    However, consistency was still an issue. After Fleury surrendered six goals on 24 shots in Game 4, head coach Dan Bylsma opted to start Tomas Vokoun in Game 5. He made 31 saves in Game 5 to earn the Penguins their second shutout of the series.

    Vokoun’s performance in Game 5 was enough to earn him the start in Game 6. He faced 38 shots in almost 68 minutes of hockey and was beaten by only three of them.

    In years past, the Penguins have lived and died by Fleury’s performance. When he was hot, so were the Penguins, and when he was cold…well, you get it.

    It’s a different situation this year. Bylsma has an elite talent backing up Fleury and has shown he has no problem giving him the nod over the 2009 Stanley Cup netminder. That should be a major X-factor for the Penguins as they gear up to face a Senators team boasting elite goaltending talent in Craig Anderson.


    Michael Prunka is a Bleacher Report Featured Columnist. Stay up to date with him by liking his Facebook page and following him on Twitter.