Not the result the Penguins wanted, but it wasn’t the end of the world either. The Pittsburgh Penguins were able to generate quite a bit and I saw some things that should make life easier for them moving forward. The result was a 4-3 loss in overtime after Mat Barzal went into god mode and abused Brian Dumoulin’s gap control. He reminded me of a 90’s mini-Jagr. If you’re going to lose a game that’s the kind of goal you shrug your shoulders at and say “yeah, that was pretty awesome”. Here was the winning goal where Josh Bailey was able to clean up what Barzal started
As far as the Islanders approach to attacking the Penguins it was aggressive and at times very successful. Their game plan was to get the Penguin defender to go back and retrieve the puck with intense pressure from F1. IF possible, F1 tries to force the defender into reversing the puck to their partner. The next step for the Islanders was to send F2 hard at the defensive partner to shut off the safety valve. This totally disrupts any ability for the Penguins to exit the zone with control, if at all. It is a good move to catch a team napping in Game 1 and it certainly did. The Penguins came out of the gate flat and unprepared for it. Not to mention the Penguins were falling down like a nature bloopers video. It was ugly.
How can the Penguins respond to the Islanders attacking like that? It’s actually pretty simplistic. You have to use their aggressiveness against them. If F1 is successfully tracking the defenseman they won’t have time to skate free except for a few occasions where Kris Letang might be able to shake free because of his skill set. Instead of trying to skate it or use your defense partner you immediately hard him the puck. The wingers need to work back and anticipate that is what is going to happen. These immediately alleviates the focused pressure of what New York is trying to do. Either the winger is going to have time for a controlled exit or the F3/D (depending on if they are running a 2-3 or a 2-1-2 forecheck) is going to pinch hard on the winger and a chip to the middle to the streaking center will send the Penguins off the other way with control. For this simplistic response to work Matt Murray is going to have to be vocal to his defender on what the situation is so they don’t have to process everything on their own. Time is not a luxury with intense forechecking pressure.
Brian Dumoulin and Olli Maatta had a rough go of things for most of the game. Dumoulin was taking a nap on both of the Islanders first two goals where they were allowed to camp a guy right in front of Matt Murray. These were mistakes your local amateur players make. Where is Dumoulin going here?
Olli Maatta had a special case of galaxy brain when he iced the puck with NOBODY on him in the third period to cause his teammates to stay on the ice after an incredibly long shift where they already had to navigate a previous icing. It was one of the most unacceptable icings of the year that I’ve seen from any team in any game. Total rubbish.
As you can see Maatta was also casual trying to corral the puck which led to the actual goal. He has to know the situation and the pressure he had been facing that game. Mike Sullivan finally pulled the trigger and left Jack Johnson out of the lineup. This sequence is going to be what is going to put him back in and that’s too bad because Justin Schultz was more effective than he’s been and it is no coincidence to why that is.
It’s not often you see Sidney Crosby criticism here, but his line just wasn’t good enough. On a night where nearly all Penguins were able to generate attempts and chances his line didn’t do anything. Crosby’s xGF% for Game 1 was 37.65 and was only on the ice for three high-danger chances for and seven against. This is uncharacteristic and costly for the Penguins because if the Crosby line was average I think the Penguins win comfortably. Good news is that Crosby rarely has back to back clunkers in the regular season let alone the playoffs. I expect to see him shot out of a cannon next game.
Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin both played well. Phil scored the Penguins first goal and that is a moment you can point to where he was obviously doing good things, but it wasn’t just that. He was great on the back check he was great with his angles. It was a really strong performance and the kind of performance that allows a coach to keep his three star forwards on three separate lines.
Justin Schultz caught the puck so pure on his game tying goal. It’s not an easy thing to do with a rolling puck like that. Not only did he get a lot of velocity on it, but that whole accuracy thing was impressive as well.
The Islanders had their share of posts and the Penguins had their share of bang bang chances they didn’t take advantage of. Patric Hornqvist and Phil Kessel both missed on open cages with Hornqvist’s being the easier play of the two. The hard part is earning those chances and creating the frantic situations that lead up to the chances. The easy part should be finishing in those scenarios. I think the Penguins can continue to earn the chances and I think their conversation rate will go up.
One talking point heading into the series was managing the puck against “Barry Trotz’s system”. Pittsburgh failed miserably at the end of the third period and overtime. Nick Bjugstad made a completely carless pass to Bryan Rust which almost led to the game ending in regulation. He tried to play a bank pass behind Rust which isn’t a bad play at times, but Rust was right up against the boards so it made no sense to try it. Rust wasn’t going to be able to take that pass in stride. Like I said, completely careless.
Kris Letang bit off more than he could chew with his offensive zone entry and his turnover was what led to the game winning goal. Phil Kessel wasn’t betting on Letang losing the puck as he was working hard to join the play as a trailer. Once the puck was turned over the Penguins were caught. Also not helping the cause was there was a forward changing during the turnover. At this point the Penguins were out attempting the Islanders 7-1 in overtime.
If I’m the Penguins I look at the easy to avoid mistakes that were made in Game 1 and have faith in their ability to generate. The game wasn’t a horrible atrocity against hockey
It’s the playoffs. It’s about making adjustments and having a short memory and the Penguins are certainly capable of both.
Thanks for reading!