Thoughts: Game 18 – Isles blow lead but hold off Pens in 5-4 (SO) final

By:  Meesh Shanmugam

NY Islanders 5  Pens 4 (SO)

Record: 13-3-2

Goals
Sutter (6) from Martin, Downie
Comeau (5) from Kunitz, Maatta
Spaling (3) from Hornqvist, Malkin
Hornqvist (10) from Malkin, Ehrhoff

Click here to read the goal assessments

Penalties
Letang (hooking) – Bad (loses the puck in the defensive zone and hooks Cizikas back to keep him away from it)
Bortuzzo (fighting) – Inconsequential (fights Martin a shift after the Isles scored their fourth goal and both players went to the box with majors)
Downie (slashing) – Inconsequential (gets into a scuffle with Hickey in front of the Penguins bench and they both receiving slashing minors)

Gm 18 - Goals

Notable Players

Forwards

Gm 18 - Forwards

Chris Kunitz – Kunitz hasn’t necessarily had the smoothest season so far with Crosby’s performances going up and down and his linemates changing, but his effort on defense/to cover up for defensemen made him a noteworthy player against the Islanders. Kunitz rushed back to cover up for a defenseman and at least hinder a 2-on-1 chance three times to go along with a takeaway, a pass interception, and two broken up plays in the defensive zone. Even with a quiet game in the offensive zone, he still managed to earn an assist on Comeau’s goal by feeding him the puck with speed at the left faceoff circle. Offense may come and go, but Kunitz will always be reliable when it comes to getting back on defense at least.

Evgeni Malkin – The first half of Malkin’s game suggested he was going to have a lackluster performance that would leave people questioning the second line. The second half of his game left no questions as the second line produced two goals, both assisted by Malkin. There was an extremely visible shift in Malkin’s play as the game progressed from heavy pressure by the Isles to a slower game. As the Isles slowed down, Malkin sped up and set up Hornqvist for two shots around the slot, one of which led to Spaling’s goal and the other beating Johnson glove-side. Despite the strong end, Malkin certainly had his issues with the puck with three giveaways, two lost pucks, and two failed clears. If Hornqvist and Makin can find a way to sustain the chemistry they demonstrated in the second half of the game, none of that should be a problem moving forward.

It took a little bit to get going, but Malkin was nearing unstoppable once he was up to speed. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

It took a little bit to get going, but Malkin was nearing unstoppable once he was up to speed. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Blake Comeau – Comeau deserves credit for creating/scoring an odd goal with the help of Matt Martin and Chad Johnson, but his overall game left a lot to be desired on the first line. It was clear he wasn’t thinking at the same level of Crosby and Kunitz and it led to several lost pucks (five) all over the ice. Perhaps this is a line that needs time to mesh together, but Comeau did not require much time to look comfortable on the second line with Malkin, so that may be a better fit for him. Wherever he ends up, he needs to protect the puck much better against the Islanders on Saturday.

Sidney Crosby – No points, no shots, only one positive play (an offensive zone pass interception)…these are not Sidney Crosby numbers. The Islanders did a wonderful job of shutting down Crosby, though it certainly helped that Comeau kept losing pucks on the first line. He certainly didn’t look as physical as he had in the past few games and he just generally couldn’t get anything done as the Isles continuously closed on him quickly and also pinned his line in the defensive zone for some long shifts. With Crosby, a bad game is usually just a blip on the radar, but he seems to be having a lot of up-and-down performances from game to game lately.

Defensemen/Goalies

Gm 18 - Defense

Marc-Andre Fleury – Though he was hoping to get win #300 on home ice, Fleury didn’t do himself any favors by letting up a questionable goal to Matt Martin with a passive effort to cut down the angle and stop the puck. Things didn’t improve immediately either as he got a piece of Kulemin’s shot but couldn’t stop it from ending up in the back of the net. Fleury’s performance eventually did get better and he wasn’t at fault for the other two goals he allowed, but two questionable goals is more than enough to call it a subpar night. Fleury looked jittery and anything but calm at several points against the Isles. Perhaps it was the pressure of win #300 or maybe it was just an off night. Either way, I’m expecting a stronger performance the next time he appears.

You're moving the wrong way buddy. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

You’re moving the wrong way, Flower. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Robert Bortuzzo – Coach Johnston said after the game that he wanted to play Bortuzzo because all of his defensemen deserved playing time and he didn’t want to sit one for too long. Perhaps he already sat Bortuzzo for too long or maybe Bortuzzo didn’t deserve playing time because he looked downright atrocious on several different shifts against the Islanders. He had three defensive zone giveaways on his own and also struggled to help Scuderi, which sadly is a part of the job description for playing on the third pairing with him. Overall, Bortuzzo just looked ill-equipped to handle the relentless speed and pressure of the Islanders. That could certainly just be his timing after sitting out for a few games, but Bortuzzo isn’t exactly known for his quickness and quick decision-making to begin with. Whatever the issue was, Bortuzzo didn’t take any positive steps towards keeping a lineup spot.

Rob Scuderi – Speaking of a man who maybe shouldn’t keep a lineup spot, Scuderi had a better chance of scoring a goal than clearing the puck against the Islanders. New York had him pegged perfectly as he tried to continuously wrap the puck around the boards, which was always met with an interception in the Penguins zone. His inability to skate the puck out, or even adjust to where the Islanders were positioned, combined with Bortuzzo’s inability to handle the puck, created some long and chaotic shifts in the defensive zone for the Penguins. It can be argued who should sit (more on that later), but against a team as fast as the Islanders, Bortuzzo-Scuderi is a train wreck in slow motion…literally.

Misc. Thoughts

Two Bad Performances? – Much like the Montreal game, I came away from this performance thinking that both teams looked shaky. The Penguins couldn’t handle the Islanders speed early on and Fleury looked shaky right away. Meanwhile, the Islanders were inconsistent in five-minute spurts and also had shaky goaltending from Johnson. Both teams had some fantastic shifts and both had shifts where they looked like the Sabres, but neither team could seize momentum for a continuous period and both created chances for the other with their own mistakes. At this point, I’m curious if the Penguins would elevate their game against a team playing perfectly or if their shaky play would be revealed in a blowout loss.

Defensive Decisions – As I mentioned above, Johnston doesn’t want to sit a defenseman for too long and he wants all of his guys to get time. I think that’s a smart move and I agree with that. What I don’t agree with, is playing the two slowest defensemen and worst puck-movers on the back end against a team that has given the Penguins fits due to their speed and forecheck. There was never any point before or during the game where Scuderi-Bortuzzo seemed like a good idea against the Islanders lineup. I’m all for using them against a slower team, but the matchup wasn’t right this weekend. Despres is an automatic #5 defenseman against the Islanders, even with his mistakes, solely because he can skate and move the puck against a tenacious team.

Isles Dictating the Play – While neither team played perfectly, I got the idea that the Penguins were only able to do what the Isles were allowing, though not purposely. The teams went back and forth at first, then the Isles found their speed and forecheck and pinned the Penguins for long periods of time. In the second period, especially the second half of it, the Isles looked noticeably slower and worn out. This is when Malkin’s line started to pick up their pace and take over. The third period was up and down in terms of speed/effort from the Islanders and the Penguins followed suit with some great shifts and some awful ones. At no point did I feel like the Penguins were actually carrying the play on their own accord; it always felt like they were able to dominate when the Isles slowed down and they were falling apart when the Isles forced the issue.

The Islanders are definitely the type of matchup where Dupuis and his speed will be missed. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

The Islanders are definitely the type of matchup where Dupuis and his speed will be missed. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Whistles Away – Any game where the refs put their whistles away will automatically favor the Penguins opponents due to the amazingly talented powerplay not getting on the ice. While that is frustrating in itself, the calls that were not made against both teams were absurd through the second and third periods. Interference got out of hand, escalating into some ugly collisions and some dirty plays (yeah, you, Boychuk). It’s one thing to not call a tight game, but when players are starting to go down every other shift because there is no fear of taking a penalty, there is no point to even having refs in the game anymore. We’ve seen games where not much is called, especially in the playoffs, but this game was absolutely atrocious in terms of how many actual penalties were not called against both teams. What’s the point of having rules?

Isles, Part II – As the home-and-home shifts to Long Island, Thomas Greiss will be in net and Jayson Megna has been called up. Megna has been playing fantastic hockey for WBS and is at least a step up from Sill. He also might be a short-term (SHORT-TERM, I SAID SHORT-TERM) fix in the top-six if Johnston wants to bump Comeau or Spaling down. Pens-Isles (#Penislanders) is always crazy, but I have a feeling we will see a more measured game tonight than we did on Friday. Neither coach was happy with his team, especially on defense, and both teams weren’t pleased with their efforts either. Might we actually get a low-scoring normal hockey game from Pens/Isles?!

Next Game: 11/22 @ NY Islanders, 7pm

Thanks for reading!!