Grove: Biggest Wounds In Penguins Game 1 Loss To Islanders Self-Inflicted

The Penguins got simplicity at one end of the ice last night, but they never really found it at the other.

Bob Grove
April 11, 2019 - 8:55 am

© Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

Related: Islanders beat Penguins 4-3 in OT in Game 1

Simplicity.

The Penguins got it at one end of the ice last night, but they never really found it at the other, which is one reason they are behind in their first-round series against the New York Islanders.

Among some of the most basic tenets of sound defensive hockey are prioritizing net-front coverage, making safe decisions that increase chances of zone exit and winning your share of one-on-one battles. There’s plenty of credit that goes to New York for creating some of the high-grade chances it produced in a 4-3 overtime victory in Game 1, but there’s ample reason to believe the Penguins know some of their biggest wounds were self-inflicted.

It wasn’t any more evident than the first goal of the game, when Brian Dumoulin’s pass from behind his own net never connected with Bryan Rust and Dumoulin and Olli Maatta then both lost Jordan Eberle, who settled in behind them to convert Adam Pelech’s redirected shot from the point. The game wasn’t yet two minutes old, and the Islanders had already had a Tom Kuhnhackl goal wiped out by an offside call. And yet here were the Penguins, gifting a goal to an offensively-challenged Islanders team.

It was just the first of many shots New York would get on Matt Murray’s doorstep, including the ones from Matt Barzal and Josh Bailey that ended the game.

Marcus Pettersson took a needless tripping penalty in his own zone later in the first period, leading to a Brock Nelson power play goal from – yes – right in front of the net. Dumoulin had taken Bailey out of the play along the wall, but Matt Cullen fell and never got back to cover Nelson as he converted a Jordan Eberle pass to continue Pittsburgh’s penalty killing woes. The Penguins have allowed a power play goal in six of their last seven games.

With time ticking away late in the third period and the game tied, Maatta created an ill-advised icing call, then easily lost the rebound of a Valtteri Filppula shot to Leo Komarov, who shipped it to Nick Leddy for the go-ahead goal against a screened Murray.

All of these goals kept the Islanders where they need to be in this series: ahead. The Penguins never had a lead in Game 1 and cannot spend this series chasing games. It plays right into the hands of a New York team that is much better at protecting leads than creating them – although the Islanders did it last night.

The overtime goal was a product of mistakes elsewhere on the ice, when Kris Letang lost the puck in the New York zone, Phil Kessel took himself out of position once New York gained possession and the Penguins made a poor line change. But Pittsburgh’s zone exits, challenged by the New York forecheck as expected, were often far more difficult than they needed to be and their defensive zone coverage was simply not good enough.

It wasn’t a good night for Maatta, who also got danced by Kuhnhackle one a one-on-one move in overtime that could have ended the game. Maatta played well late in the regular season upon returning from injury but might have been expected to have a better game on the night when the coaching staff was forced to make its long-anticipated decision about which regular defenseman to scratch and it wound up being Jack Johnson.

One of the big storylines from Game 1 was the very quiet night had by the Sidney Crosby line, as he and linemates Jake Guentzel and Rust had just two shots at even strength and were outplayed by the Islanders’ fourth line of Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck. That line, which also clamped down on the Crosby line in the teams’ last regular season meeting on Long Island, forced Pittsburgh’s top line to spend a lot of time in their own end. Guentzel did not even attempt a shot and has now gone without a shot in two consecutive playoff games; Crosby has been held off the scoresheet in every road game against the Islanders this season.

The Penguins need a whole lot more from the Crosby line, but they’ll get it. Game 1 simply wasn’t a good night for them and they will drive themselves to be better – regardless of whether coach Mike Sullivan swaps Rust out for Jared McCann in Game 2. Or makes some other change, as he often does.

Sullivan had to like what happened for Pittsburgh in the offensive zone, as the Penguins attempted 83 shots and got 44 of them on Robin Lehner. They absolutely had a shot-first attitude in this game, for which Sullivan consistently asks. Evgeni Malkin’s power play goal was a shot that went off Pelech in front; Justin Schultz’s dramatic game-tying goal with Murray pulled was a simple shot on target that Lehner never saw, thanks to a Guentzel screen.

Kessel and Patric Hornqvist had five shots each, Malkin six and Bjugstad four as the second and third lines led the way in simplifying in the offensive zone, just getting pucks to the net. It paid off for the Penguins in a big way, as they took control of the game in the second half of the second period. More of that – and fewer mistakes in front of their own goal – is a formula for success in this series.

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