The Pittsburgh Penguins needed to find the puck and find their game against the New York Islanders. Despite ripping 44 shots, the Penguins lost Game One at the Nassau Coliseum in overtime 4-3. The Penguins had a lot of shots but they didn’t have more scoring chances than New York, which vexed the Penguins top line and captain Sidney Crosby, especially.
Crosby was on the wrong end of his line battle with the New York fourth line with Matt Martin-Casey Czikas-Cal Clutterbuck. New York head coach Barry Trotz wisely used his home ice advantage to keep the favorable matchup.
The New York fourth line achieved a rare feat; they controlled the puck against Crosby. It was a startling note to the Penguins loss.
“You’ve got to learn from it regardless of the outcome,” Crosby said of the score. “We’ll learn from this one and make sure we’re better in Game 2.”
Crosby struggled to get the puck. For comparison sake, the Penguins fourth line with Matt Cullen attempted six shots at even strength. Crosby’s line attempted only seven. However, the Penguins top line yielded 20 shot attempts. Ouch.
New York’s forecheck punished the Penguins defense which made Crosby’s job even more difficult. The Penguins defenders were not on their game Wednesday night. As PHN detailed, Maatta was in trouble, and Kris Letang committed four turnovers.
The combination of an aggressive forecheck by New York and Penguins mistakes kept Crosby into the defensive zone too often.
“We’ve just got to get out of our end. You can’t score from 200 feet away,” Crosby understated. “We’ve got to do a better job of getting out of our end and spending our energy in the offensive zone.”
At even strength, Crosby had more giveaways (2) than shots (1). Linemate Bryan Rust posted the least productive shot attempt ratio. When Rust was one the ice, the Penguins took just 28% of the shot attempts. With a late rally, Crosby upped his ratio to 40%.
“We knew they were going to try to come in with a heavy forecheck and they’re a team that has a high dump in rate,” Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said. “They want to put pucks in deep and try to be physical.”
Overall, the Penguins rolled all four lines and fired 44 shots. That the Penguins top line was not involved in the scoring or shot clock but the Penguins still managed a big shot total and three goals should be slight consolation price, especially if third line center Nick Bjugstad continues his ascension.
Bjugstad had four shots and eight hits. The Penguins third line scored the Penguins first goal of the game when winger Dominik Simon raced into the New York zone and dropped the puck to Phi Kessel who whipped it into the net. When the Penguins were able to shorten the distance to the New York goal, they had success.
Evgeni Malkin also posted superior scoring chances and shot attempt numbers to his competition, in addition to his power-play goal.
But not much for Crosby, who had 100 points in the regular season.
Czikas will be an even bigger threat to the Penguins in the series than he has in past years as the 28-year-old center found his offensive touch. Czikas scored 20 goals which are more than his last two seasons combined (15).
And just for good measure, New York also sprinkled in Mathew Barzal and the top line against Crosby, too. Just in case Crosby wanted more of a challenge.
The Penguins and New York were close to even on scoring chances, just as they were close to even for much of the game, but the Penguins will need to make adjustments to get the puck on Crosby’s stick to generate more scoring chances. Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan has not been shy about juggling lines, either.
200 feet is a long way.