The Pittsburgh Penguins joined the Tampa Bay Lightning as unexpected upset candidates Friday night. Both teams have Stanley Cup hopes and expectations and now both teams face a 2-0 series deficit against hungry teams with nothing to lose. The Penguins have yet to solve the relentless simplicity of the New York Islanders and failed to create more than one goal as they lost to New York 3-1 at the Nassau Coliseum.
The analysis of Games 1 and 2 are quite simple, just like the style of play. New York coach Barry Trotz is not outcoaching Mike Sullivan as much as he is showing off the superior buy-in of the less talented New York roster. Every shift. Every line. All game.
The New York Islanders take the simple play. If they don’t have numbers, if a controlled zone entry is not granted, they move the puck forward to open ice with speed. They don’t think about it, nor do they hesitate. They doggedly pursue the puck which is driving the Penguins crazy because it takes away all of the time and space to be creative.
The Penguins do some of that. But not all of that. Not all of the time.
And when Evgeni Malkin kicks the puck past his stick on a breakout, New York was ready to pounce. Not only did they have defensemen back, but they also had pursuing forwards ready to transition. When Jordan Eberle cut towards the net, he made a perfect backhand shot over Penguins goalie Matt Murray.
That perfect shot has thus far eluded the Penguins who haven’t often had enough time to make that shot.
Tactically, the series and Game 2 are easy to break down. KISS. Keep it simple stupid. The Penguins are trying but New York is better at the simple game and the Penguins have thus far lacked the big play or moment to change the game. Robin Lehner is offering rebounds but the Penguins aren’t there first. The New York defense can be pressured, but the Penguins forecheck hasn’t yet turned the tables on New York.
New York has players back to blunt the Penguins rush. At the same New York can forecheck, too. The game will be played station to station, zone to zone, with guts.
We’re about to find out if the Penguins have them.