One of the great things about the playoffs is the sense that anything can happen. It's an overstated narrative, but it's somewhat true when you think about it. Crazy things happen in a seven-game sample size (goalies standing on their heads, certain players going through a hot streak, etc.) and the heavily favored team doesn't always win. In this Pens/Isles series, the script has been flipped a bit. The Penguins are the top-seed and heavily favored coming in but they have actually been outplayed by the the Islanders in two out of three games. It might sound strange to the casual fan, but the Penguins have had a very tough time handing with the Islanders this series and are very fortunate to be leading two games to one.
The Penguins "stunning" depth looked outmatched by the Islanders top-nine today, as they were outchanced 21-12 and recorded only eight scoring chances at even strength. I don't care how talented your lineup is, this kind of offensive production isn't going to cut it in the playoffs even if they advance out of the first round. Yet, despite having such a low offensive output, the Pens were able to beat Nabokov five times and convert on a little under half of their scoring chances. Whether you want to chalk it up to a strong power play, luck, "killer instinct," "efficiency" or brutal goaltending from Evgeni Nabokov is up to you, but the Pens seemed to have the golden touch whenever they shot the puck today for whatever reason.
I think the Penguins are a better team than what they have shown the last couple of games, but the Islanders deserved a better outcome than what they got today since they were the better team. However, as I said earlier, the better team doesn't always win in a seven-game series and getting a win today can help give the Pens a boost for the rest of the series. They are going to need to come out a lot stronger than they did today, though because the Islanders have really been giving them a hard time.
New York Islanders vs. Pittsburgh Penguins Game Three
"Efficient" was the word of choice used by NBC's broadcasters to describe the Pens power play and that's a pretty accurate description. They had only five shots on goal but three of them found the back of the net. I think "efficient' is another word to describe "lucky" because they scored on 60% of the shots they took and that obviously won't continue in the future. The power play is what kept the Penguins in the game, though. They were trialing 2-0 in the first period before getting a five-on-three and ended up scoring on the first two shots they took during both power play sequences. Their game-winner in overtime also came on the power play after a pretty soft penalty call. Sometimes an "efficient" power play is just what the doctor ordered when your team is getting flogged at even strength, though and that's exactly what propelled the Penguins head in this game.
When the Penguins weren't on the man advantage, the Islanders dominated them in all phases. Pittsburgh had trouble adjusting to the Islanders speed and their defensemen were constantly getting burned in the transition game. To make matters worse, their defense struggled to move the puck out of their own zone and were committing some brutal turnovers in their own end. The end result being the Penguins not getting much sustained zone time or offense and taking a beating in the scoring chance & possession department. The Islanders have been a very good team during five-on-five play this year, but even I didn't see this kind of domination coming.
Islanders Individual Scoring Chances
Best EV Forwards: Matt Moulson & Kyle Okposo +6
Worst EV Forward: Brad Boyes -1
Best EV Defenseman: Travis Hamonic +7
Worst EV Defenseman: Matt Carkner EVEN
John Tavares scored an absolutely filthy goal to tie the game in the third period but he wasn't the Islanders best player tonight from my viewpoint. That honor would go to anyone on their second line. Frans Nielsen, Kyle Okposo and Matt Moulson had a dominant performance at both ends of the rink and have arguably been the Islanders best line in this series. Okposo will be who most will talk about since he scored a huge short-handed goal and had the initial scoring chance that Moulson cashed in on for the opening goal of the game, but Nielsen may have been the most impressive of them all. This line played a lot of minutes against Evgeni Malkin and despite that, Nielsen was not on the ice for any of Pittsburgh's scoring chances. He played about as close to a flawless game as you can get when it comes to his play in all three zones.
Another player who stood out was Michael Grabner, which is saying a lot because he didn't play that much. He made most of his minutes count, though by being on the ice for five even strength scoring chances in a little over 10 minutes of ice-time and creating a lot of odd-man rushes and tough situations for the Penguins with his speed. I was surprised that he and Cizikas didn't play more minutes because they were very impressive with their minutes and neither Boyes or Bailey were lighting it up on the first line.
On defense, Travis Hamonic & Andrew MacDonald did an amazing job of keeping the Penguins top forwards in check during even strength play. This duo was on the ice for only two of Pittsburgh's 5v5 scoring chances and carried over their impressive play from Game Two into today's game. They also logged a ton of ice-time in general and are really emerging as a legit top defense pairing. The only blip was their performance on the penalty kill but they actually took less damage compared to some of the Isles other players.
No one on the Isles blue line came away as a negative but Matt Carkner did not have a good game at all. He screened Nabokov on the Murray goal and took a very dumb interference penalty while on the bench in the third period. He was also the only defender who could not carry the play forward at all, which is pretty bad when you look at how easily the Islanders defense corps was able to control the scoring chance battle. Brian Strait also had a rough game penalty-wise and he was on the box for Chris Kunitz' goal in overtime but he actually did a decent job of contributing at even strength. Carkner did not.
Penguins Individual Scoring Chances
Best EV Forward: Matt Cooke +1
Worst EV Forward: Brenden Morrow -6
Best EV Defenseman: Douglas Murray -1
Worst EV Defenseman: Matt Niskanen -6
These are the results you will often get when a team gets outchanced by 11 at even strength and the ones who took the most damage were the ones who played a lot of minutes. Malkin & Crosby both were on the ice for a lot of Islander scoring chances and had rough games defensively. Simon Despres also had an impressively bad game with little ice time and Brenden Morrow had an absolutely horrific performance when it came to defensive zone play. Every time he had the puck he either coughed it up he either iced it, failed to get it out of the zone or just coughed it back up to the Islanders.
With the entire team giving up more offense than they were producing, it's tough to find many individual standouts but it's hard to ignore what a lot of the Penguins did on the power play. Crosby, Malkin, Letang & Kunitz were all money with the man advantage and played a huge role in the Penguins escaping with a win today. Paul Martin also had a strong game defensively, being on the ice for only five even strength scoring chances in over 25 minutes of ice time isn't an easy feat, especially when the rest of your team gets shelled.
Head-to-Head at Five-on-Five
Capuano seems to be content with having Tavares playing against Crosby and that matchup worked slightly in the Islanders favor today. What it also meant was that Nielsen played against Malkin's line and this trio shredded just about everyone in their path. Bylsma tried to switch things up and get a different defense pairing out against them but it didn't matter since nothing was really working and Nielsen's line just continued to win all of their matchups. Hamonic/ & McDonald also did a great job against Crosby's line while Visnovsky & Strait were able to beat Malkin's line in their matchup.
It's also worth mentioning that two of Pittsburgh's defensemen lost all of their matchups (Niskanen & Despres) and Mark Eaton & Doug Murray came away as a positive against a combined three players and none of the Islanders forwards.
Basically, the Isles crushed the Penguins in every area but special teams and unfortunately ended up losing the game because of it. In the regular season, you can usually shrug off these losses and be happy that your team played well without getting the result but in the playoffs, these losses really sting.
|1||NYI||18:17||Moulson - GOAL||10||21||26||2||11||20||71||12||10||47||58||29||5v5|
|1||NYI||14:19||Cizikas - GOAL||53||13||40||2||47||20||87||9||14||2||47||29||5v5|
|1||PIT||6:47||Iginla - GOAL||51||37||47||20||71||87||12||14||58||29||3v5|
|1||PIT||6:23||Kunitz - GOAL||12||17||11||37||20||71||87||12||14||58||29||4v5|
|1||PIT||1:00||Dupuis - GOAL||91||24||26||2||11||20||87||9||14||7||58||29||5v5|
|2||PIT||2:50||Murray - GOAL||53||21||40||2||7||20||71||12||19||3||7||29||5v5|
|3||NYI||14:29||Okposo - GOAL||51||21||7||47||20||12||10||36||2||4||29||4v5|
|3||NYI||9:12||Tavares - GOAL||12||91||24||3||47||20||87||9||14||4||58||29||5v5|
|OT||PIT||11:16||Kunitz - GOAL||51||40||3||47||20||71||87||14||7||58||29||4v5|
Fits with what I saw. As a Pens fan, I don't think the Isles can win 3 of 4, but I'm pretty damn nervous. It's amazing how dominant the Pens looked in game 1, and how dominant the Isles looked the next two games.
You would think that Pens would clean up their game (they can't play much worse), so that gives me some solace. Still, unless the Pens win game 4 and look better doing it, I'm going to remain extremely nervous.