When it comes to the list of responsibilities for the New York Islanders top defensive pairing of Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech, they will have no greater challenge in the opening round of the playoffs than subduing the hot hand of Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby.
Crosby is one of several weapons that Pittsburgh has, but the NHL superstar remains one of the biggest thorns in the side of the Islanders. In eight games alone this season, Crosby has nine points (three goals, six assists) against the Islanders.
His career numbers against New York speak even louder, meaning it becomes imperative that Pulock and Pelech lock him down.
“Obviously we know that going into this that we’re going to have to be good and we’re going to have to do a good job defensively,” Pulock said on Thursday following practice on Long Island. “Whoever we’re playing against, they have a few lines that can be very dangerous. We’re going to take it upon ourselves. We’re confident together that we can do a good job no matter who we’re playing and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
In 75 career games against the Islanders, Crosby has 122 points (32 goals, 83 assists), which is the most points against a single team by any active NHL player. Simply put, Crosby, in part, has made a career of putting up points against the Islanders.
That is no secret, rather, just a fact that rears its ugly head whenever the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh meet.
“Sid is world-class,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said about how Crosby has developed over the years. “He’s just worked on his game. He’s a smarter player. I know that he’s way better defensively as a forward at this age than he was 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 things are there.
“When you’re youthful I guess you still have to go through a lot of those experiences. I mean he’s got a number of Cups, he’s played in the Olympics, all those things. All those experiences have made him as complete a player there is in the National Hockey League.”
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— x – New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) May 13, 2021
Stopping Crosby is a tall order, especially this season. Crosby has a point in six of the eight games between New York and Pittsburgh, but silencing “Sid the Kid” isn’t impossible.
And Pulock and Pelech have done just that before in the playoffs.
When the Islanders swept Pittsburgh in the first round, Crosby was held to just one point the entire series and it only came in the form of an assist in the final game of the series. Who was there to help contain one of the most prolific players in the NHL? Pulock and Pelech.
“I don’t know, it’s a tough job to do,” Pulock said when asked about shutting Crosby down in the 2019 series. “He’s a world-class player. He’s been one of the best players in this league for a lot of years. It’s not an easy task and obviously, for us, we just have to play hard. We have to defend hard and be smart, and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
Stopping Crosby will be a major component to the Islanders’ game if they hope to be successful in the first round, but it’s far from the only player they have to hone in on.
Trotz and the New York Islanders are well aware that once you stop Crosby, Pittsburgh can be just as dangerous with its other forwards.
“You can’t just focus in on one line. They’ve got three or even four lines that are capable of scoring,” Trotz said. “You don’t really get a break when you got a lineup like that. They don’t really give you a break, and nor should they. That’s about playoff hockey, you shouldn’t have a break in playoff hockey.”