The Pittsburgh Penguins have a problem with teams which don’t let them open up. The New York Islanders were content to pack the zone, just as they had done in the two prior meetings. The Islanders kept the Penguins to the perimeter, took away the cross-ice pass and sucked the life out of the game. In the first period, anyway.
At the start of the second period, the Penguins adjusted, the Islanders opened up and the Penguins made them pay. Again and again.
However, the game turned after the Islanders handed the Penguins their eight shorthanded goal allowed. With the game tied at one and momentum with the Islanders, Tomas Greiss allowed a soft goal on a long shot by Letang. A bad goal begot more bad luck for the Islanders and good luck for the Penguins.
The play which set up that Letang goal was a beauty. With three Islanders awaiting the Penguins rush at the blue line, the Penguins sent two players, Sidney Crosby and Brian Dumoulin to the net. The swarm created space at the top of the zone as the Islander gridlock was broken. The play is meant to get a rebound, but instead, Letang got his second goal.
Beginning in the second period, the Penguins began to grind the Islanders. Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust worked hard on the walls and the team followed. When the Penguins went to the grinding style, the Islanders were done.
The PHN Report Card will keep writing it until it’s not true–When the Penguins play a simple game, they are the best team on the ice. They have a size and strength advantage, and a skill advantage. They also skate pretty well.
Few teams can match the Penguins simple game. Certainly not the Islanders. Even without Patric Hornqvist whose injury and status were unknown after the game, the Penguins were able to take control by playing simply. Their talent shined when the Islanders had to loosen up and when the Islanders had to play on the walls against the Penguins.
One sour note, the Penguins power play again decided to coast back into the defensive zone. Opponents know the book–go after the Penguins for a shorthanded chance. Brock Nelson was untouched as he deked Casey DeSmith. That.cannot.happen.
The Islanders penalty kill also stifled the Penguins power play. On the first Penguins man-advantage chance, Kuhnhackl stood stationary in the slot while Nelson chased the puck between the points, to the left wing circle and back. Kuhnhackl’s job was simply to take away the cross-ice pass.
And he did. And the Penguins barely applied pressure.
On the second power play, the Penguins allowed a shorthanded goal. More teams will emulate that kill. Islanders coach Barry Trotz has a lot of experience pouring cold water on the Penguins power play. Last year with the Capitals, Trotz created his blue line wall which stymied the Penguins franchise-best power play.
However, the Penguins did find gold in the hills. Two in a row. Momentum. Finally. And a win over a pesky, fast team.
Penguins Report Card
Kris Letang: A+