It’s no surprise Game 1 of the first-round series between the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders went to overtime. Both teams are evenly matched and it isn’t going to be an easy road. Yet, the Penguins dominated most of the game and still managed to play extra hockey. This isn’t the regular season – there are no points for going to overtime in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It was positive the Penguins tied the game with three minutes left in the third period, but they shouldn’t have given up the lead in the first place. They need to make improvements, but if Sunday showed one thing, it is that this series is going to be a long one.
Power Play Woes
The Penguins must capitalize on the power play. At the beginning of the year, this was a sore spot for them. They improved as the season went on. They converted on 23.7 percent of their power plays, the fourth-best mark in the NHL. They were 0-for-3 on the power play Sunday, though, and it kept the Islanders in the game. They could have had a two-goal lead – instead, they allowed the Islanders to keep it close.
The Islanders killed 83.7 percent of their penalties this season, which put them at sixth in the NHL. They went up against a solid power play, however, in their first PK of the day, the Islanders did not clear the puck once. The Penguins had a lot of good looks and should have scored on their first chance with the man advantage. They were also up against the Islanders’ backup goalie Ilya Sorokin and should have taken advantage of the opportunity. Yes, Pittsburgh was missing Evgeni Malkin on the first power-play unit, but they have played without him for the last month of the season, so it really should not have made a difference. They still have Sidney Crosby, Bryan Rust, Jake Guentzel and Kris Letang out there on the first unit. There should be no issue finding the back of the net. They must improve on this in Game 2.
Tristan Jarry cannot give up the lead. (from ‘Tim Benz: Islanders goal-scorers were on point while Penguins’ Tristan Jarry was off the mark,’ TribLive, 05/16/2021) This was the story of the beginning of the Penguins’ and Jarry’s season this year. They did it twice against the Islanders in the regular season. The playoffs are not the time to fall back into that pattern. Jarry isn’t solely to blame for the blown lead and the loss. The Penguins had numerous opportunities on the offensive end, but didn’t score. Jarry made some good saves in the game – he is far from the shaky goaltender he was in February.
His performance in this series will dictate whether the Penguins make it out of the first round – he’s their weak spot. He has only started one playoff game prior to this and lost. He is an inexperienced playoff goaltender who has to prove whether he can perform with the added pressure.
It is harder to come back from a poor performance in the playoffs than it is in the regular-season game. He needs to hold on to the lead, so the offense doesn’t have to shoulder all the work. He was okay on Sunday – if the Penguins are going to make a Cup run and win this series, he needs to be flat-out dominant starting Tuesday.
Must Win at Home Tuesday
Pittsburgh is far from out of this series. There is no need to overreact just yet, but they need to win at home Tuesday night. If they go to Long Island down two games to none, it’s not going to be easy to climb out of. It’s well-known they are not a solid road team this season. The Penguins are 15-12 on the road and ranked 12th in the NHL. They are 2-2 against the Islanders on Long Island this season. They haven’t been totally dominated there, but they need to go in with at least one win. The Penguins were tied for first in the NHL this season with 22 home wins. They need to take advantage of their strengths in this series, and winning at home is their biggest strength this season.
The good news for the Penguins is that the capacity limits at PPG Paints Arena are expanding to 50 percent Tuesday night and they are expected to have over 9,000 fans in the arena. The building will be rocking – the Penguins will be looking for revenge and to put on a show for their fans. It wouldn’t be the 2020-21 season for Pittsburgh if there wasn’t a little adversity. This series is just heating up.
Native Long Islander who graduated from St. John’s University in 2018. I have been an avid hockey fan since childhood when my dad decided to get NHL Network. I am excited to be covering the Penguins this season!