The Pittsburgh Penguins four-day break continued through most of the game. Penguins winger Jake Guentzel was punished with a couple missed shifts for soft play, and a couple of turnovers led to a pair of Islanders goals. The Islanders forecheck never relented and they beat the Penguins 4-1 at the Barclay’s Center.
Just 30 seconds into the game, the Penguins failed to cover Islanders all-star center John Tavares in front of the Penguins net. Goaltender Matt Murray, who missed the last nine games with a concussion, stuffed Tavares. Murray made another sparkling stop just over one minute later when he absorbed Adam Pelech’s deflection.
Five minutes into the period, the Penguins flat-footed start cost them. The Islanders forecheck led by Anthony Beauvillier created a turnover behind the Penguins net. Beauvillier swarmed the slow-moving Brian Dumoulin touching off a sequence which ended when Islanders super rookie Mathew Barzal (20) deflected Johnny Boychuk‘s point shot past Murray.
Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan didn’t mince words, “we didn’t defend hard enough, we lacked discipline and we didn’t have a good start. That was the story of the game.”
Otherwise, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?
Midway through the first period, the Islanders forecheck, and the Penguins series of errors allowed Pelech (3) to blast a shot from the slot past Murray. Guentzel failed to play the outlet pass from Kris Letang, and the Islanders aggressively transitioned to apply offensive pressure.
The Penguins first signs of life didn’t occur until several minutes into the second period, but a pair of penalties stifled their momentum.
Conor Sheary finally broke the ice. In the final minutes of the second period, Sheary slipped unnoticed into the right wing circle. Phil Kessel found a seam for a cross-ice pass and Sheary (15) one-timed it past Islanders goalie Christopher Gibson.
The Islanders established dominance at the start of the third period, and the game was never again in doubt. Penguins superstar Evgeni Malkin took a ghastly tripping penalty which led to Anders Lee’s (36) power-play goal, just a few minutes into the final period.
Jordan Eberle (25) scored an empty net goal.
The Penguins did not receive a full two-minute power-play opportunity but also did little to earn one, as well. Officially, they were 0 for 1 in just over one minute of power-play time.
Analysis & Report Card
Team Effort: D-
Lazy penalties, soft penalty killing, breakout plays which made players look like spectators and forecheckers look 10 feet tall, and a generally lower compete level should be slightly embarrassing. The Islanders have won once in their last 12 games. One.
That was close to a no-show effort.
Matt Murray: B
Murray made a few big saves to keep the Penguins in the game, including the first-period stops and a diving save on Bailey in the second period. Murray was a little bit rubbery. He didn’t absorb some shots he would normally gobble up and needed help from a few posts. However, Murray gets a break since it was his first start in nearly one month.
Anders Lee power-play goal in the third period was one he would like back but no forward should have that much time and space in front of the net.
Kris Letang: C+
Letang was the team’s best defenseman which is like being the coolest guy at a fanny pack convention. I considered giving him a B- but he missed a couple clearing attempts and missed a couple more passes. He battled in the crease (including a good war with Anders Lee), he took care of the puck down low, cleaned the crease, and created a takeaway.
Conor Sheary: B-
Sheary knocked the Penguins lone goal then clearly had a real jump for the third period. He looked invigorated after the goal. Unfortunately, the team did not.
Jake Guentzel: D
Guentzel earned some pine time in the first period. He was soft when he needed to be hard on the puck. He was flat-footed when he needed to be active in the defensive zone. Guentzel’s performance has been uneven since head coach Mike Sullivan specifically challenged him in Feb.
His engagement level was noticeably lower and the Crosby line continued to struggle.