The Pittsburgh Penguins got terrorized in a series last year against the Philadelphia Flyers and the Pens relived that nightmare against the New York Islanders Friday night at the Consol Energy Center. There was lazy back-checking, loose defensive zone coverage, and another two-goal lead blown in yet another playoff game. The Pens haven’t won a Game 2 since the 2009-10 playoffs. This was also the same year that the Pens won their last playoff series.
We’ve seen how this script plays out for the Pens time and time again. Obviously, this Penguins’ team hasn’t learned their lesson yet. While every hockey media member in North America had already written off the Islanders in this series, the Pens now find themselves behind the eight ball. The Isles have seized home ice advantage going back to Long Island on Sunday.
After coming out ablaze, and Crosby scoring twice in the first period, the Pens had an early 2-0 and 3-1 lead in the game. The Pens failed to finish off the game and win a game that would’ve sealed the Islanders’ fate. Being 18-6 on the road this season, there was a good chance the Pens would’ve left Long Island with a 3-1 series lead. Instead, the Pens played the same style of hockey that caused them embarrassment in a bizarre series against the Flyers a year ago.
“They did a good job of playing in the offensive zone a lot,” said Dan Bylsma after Friday’s game against the Islanders. “Our D went back an awful lot under pressure and they turned that into offensive zone time.”
The Pens clenched to a two-goal lead after being outplayed from the start. They failed to adjust and tighten the screws after their defense was exposed early on making Marc-Andre Fleury stand on his head. “I think Marc was under siege quite a bit of the night,” said Bylsma. “They got 40+ shots on net.”
The Pens were too spread out in their defensive zone causing them to be out-chanced by the Islanders at least 2-1 in the game. The Pens’ defense had at least a dozen giveaways in their own zone or at their defensive-zone blue line. They failed to have all five players collapse in the defensive zone and minimize the Islanders’ scoring chances. Giveaways definitely contributed to the Islanders being on the attack for the majority of the night.
The forwards were also guilty of poor puck management. The forwards contributed to a ton of turnovers in all three zones. After they turned the puck over in the neutral or offensive zone, they were caught gliding back to the defensive zone to make up for their mistakes. The Pens offense also failed to get enough traffic in front of Evgeni Nabokov. This is playoff hockey, the Pens can’t depend on the fancy highlight reel goals to take place. They need to pay the price and create traffic in front of Nabokov like the Islanders did all night in front of Fleury’s cage.
The Pens are in a dogfight. We know they can dominate the regular season, but since their last Stanley Cup run they haven’t proved they’re a great post-season team. Everyone knows the NHL Playoffs are a different type of hockey. The pace is quicker, the hits are harder, and open ice is tougher to find. If the Pens want to succeed in the Playoffs, they need to simplify their game.
Why most Pittsburgh fans and media thought the Penguins had this series won after Game 1 is mind-blowing. You can jump all over my case for making a big deal out of one loss, but we’ve been convinced before that the Pens would be fine and bounce back. We kept trying to convince ourselves of this concept when the Pens failed to come through against the Flyers, and with a 3-1 series lead against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2010-11 playoffs. Despite a near flawless regular season, there is no proof to show the Pens’ have found the right mentality to succeed in the playoffs.
The Pens have the talent to win, but do they have the heart and sacrifice that it takes to win one series? “We are prepared for a seven game grind of a series and we are now in one,” said Bylsma. It is time for the Pens to stop talking, walk away from the scrums after the whistle and focus on the prize. I still think they will win this series, but I have no proof in the past three years to support that statement.