Things just got a lot more difficult for the Penguins. They will have to overcome an 0-2 series deficit to the New York Islanders. I think this really boils down to the Penguins not learning from Game 1. I didn’t see much. Mike Sullivan is getting worked over by Barry Trotz for what is the third consecutive season. The only reason it doesn’t feel that way is because Marc-Andre Fleury outplayed Braden Holtby.
To beat the Islanders you need to take the space you are given not the space you want. It can be annoying at times, but it can be done. The problem is a lot of times that involves your defense to be the players that drive success. The Islanders are going to give two looks. One is that they will try and clog things up. This means the defense needs to be able to skate with the puck and force the issue. When you look at the Penguins defense they just aren’t capable or willing to do that right now. Right now Kris Letang, Justin Schultz, and maybe Brian Dumoulin are the only ones who have shown an ability to do that in the NHL. Jack Johnson isn’t going to help here and even if Erik Gudbranson has played better than expected he is not capable of helping here either. Marcus Pettersson isn’t going to magically morph into something he isn’t already. Jim Rutherford collected a lot of bottom pairing defenseman and it shows when they need to break through a clogged neutral zone. They also nerf the puck moving ability of their partners ie: Justin Schultz.
The other look the Islanders give I have already discussed. They send two hard and hope to take advantage of the defenseman who don’t skate or pass well. The Penguins haven’t been able to take the space they are given and they haven’t been able/willing to beat the pressure with simplistic rims around the boards.
Another issue is taking penalties. Pittsburgh was shorthanded six times and I really don’t have issue with them being given six penalties. I don’t think Game 2 was officiated great for either team, but the Penguins dug their own hole. Jack Johnson doubled down on lack of awareness when after needlessly high sticking an Islanders player he pathetically ran over an Islander on his way to the bench. It wasn’t a bang bang play, he didn’t have to run into the player, he is just a muppet.
On the other side of the special teams battle the Penguins are making similar mistakes to their 5v5 play. They are not taking what the Islanders are giving them. Remember weeks ago when the Penguins were forcing things up top to flat footed players and the penalty killers were threatening to go the other way on a consistent basis? That was because the Penguins weren’t taking the ice down low. Right now it is the opposite problem. They are being given up top, but are not shooting. The Islanders approach is that they are content to let the up top stuff go because they are betting on the Penguins not shooting. The reason I love the Capitals power play is because when other teams close off an area they are content with going to another one. Close down Alex Ovechkin? Fine, they’ll play 4v3 on the other side. Carlson will rip shots from the point, Backstrom and Kuznetsov are more than willing to go low to high to Oshie in a soft spot. The Penguins at times are not willing to do these things. The entire point of Patric Hornqvist’s existence on the power play is to screen, tip, and create havoc on rebounds. He can’t do any of it when the players up top won’t take their shooting lanes. If the Islanders want to keep sitting back it is OK if you are willing to use the proper counter. Right now that is taking simple wrist shots and getting them through the first wave of shot blockers. You don’t need to shoot to score when Hornqvist and Crosby are at the net front. It also helps if you can earn more than two power plays.
Losing Jared McCann really hurts the construction of the lineup. The Malkin line went from dominating territorial play in Game 1 to being the worst line for the Penguins in Game 2. McCann’s speed is something very much needed against this Islanders club because there are going to be a lot of puck chasing scenarios against an Islanders team trying to clog things up. Zach Aston-Reese isn’t going to win a ton of those races. It might be time to think about Adam Johnson for a spot on the fourth line. Speed is needed.
Adjustments are needed at this point. I don’t think they are overly complicated. It will be the Penguins own fault if they can’t put the pieces together.
Thanks for reading!