Playoff Thoughts: Game 6 vs Islanders

Quarterfinals Game 6: Pens 4 Isles 3 (OT)

Pens Win Series 4-2

Iginla (2) from Crosby, Martin
Dupuis (5) from Vitale, Niskanen
Martin (1) from Martin
Orpik (1) from Kennedy, Malkin

| TPN Recap |

Stat Leaders

Shots: Crosby (5)
Missed Shots: Malkin (4)
Blocked Shots: Martin (5)
Hits: Cooke & Orpik (5)
Takeaways: Malkin (2)
Giveaways: Iginla, Letang, & Sutter (2)
Ice Time: Martin (30:03) … Vitale (8:10)
Faceoffs: Vitale (5/10) … Sutter (5/18)

The Good

Malkin Kennedy Orpik

Malkin dominated the 3rd period, overtime, and Tyler Kennedy in this celebration. (Kathy Willens/AP Photo)

Evgeni Malkin: While I was watching Game 6 on a 4 inch phone screen at a wedding and tracking twitter at the same time, I got the idea that Malkin was having a horrible game.  After watching the whole game on a normal TV screen, I have to wonder why people were going crazy over Geno.  He was one of the only players I had marked down for an overall positive game.  He looked very good on the forecheck, had a couple of takeaways, a couple of assists, and looked responsible defensively.  Detracting from that were 2 giveaways (by my count, the NHL had him down for 1) and 4 missed shots.  Overall though, Geno seemed to play a quiet game early and then a very strong game when the Penguins needed him the most.  The other bad number on his stat sheet: 6/17 in the faceoff circle.


Tomas Vokoun: Vokoun likely spent most of Game 6 jealous of Fleury after fully realizing why Fleury went crazy.  He played an average game, just like Fleury did in most of his starts, stopping what he was expected to stop.  He also had the joy of letting up 3 goals: 2 off of turnovers and 1 due to a missed coverage on Tavares.  Vokoun made 35 saves on 38 shots and kept the team in it throughout as the defense looked porous and team couldn’t control the puck whatsoever.  Will it be good enough for a Game 1 start in the 2nd round? – More on that later.

The Bad

Crosby Frans Nielsen

Crosby was a non-factor through much of the game. (Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Sidney Crosby: Crosby was average (for his talent) in the offensive zone with 5 shots, an assist, and some very nice passing plays.  However, his neutral zone and defensive zone play left a lot to be desired in Game 6.  Crosby probably played his worst defensive game of the series.  I marked him down for giving the puck away / losing control of the puck twice in the defensive zone and twice in the neutral zone.  He also had a couple of failed clearing attempts on the boards to add to his problems.  He was okay on faceoffs (12/25) and did win some key defensive draws, but that was probably Crosby’s worst game of the series.

Chris Kunitz: Kunitz also played his worst game of the series, which is odd as he was not on Crosby’s line (that may be something to watch for moving forward).  He had 2 shots and only 1 hit while looking bad with coverage and with puck control.  He was slow to react to Tavares on the first goal against and he lost several puck battles in the neutral zone.  Additionally, I had him marked down for simply losing the puck 3 times.  Kunitz really didn’t add much in this game at all.

Paul Martin: Unlike the other two here, Martin did not play his worst game of the series…only because he played that poorly in a loss earlier in the series.  Though his stat line looked nice (1 goal, 1 assist, 5 blocked shots, and 30:03 of playing time), his actual play in the defensive zone was a mess.  He lost several one on one puck battles, even when he was the first man to the puck, and struggled with positioning all game.  Most notably, he was too busy looking for an outlet before McDonald’s goal to notice that Grabner was about to steal the puck from him.  He also was lucky on two plays on the crease where he was caught out of position but the Isles missed the net.  The scoresheet was generous to Martin in Game 6, but his play was not worthy of that at all.

Misc. Thoughts

NY Islanders playoffs

The Isles learned that hard work doesn't always pay off. (Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)

Lucky Bounces: The Penguins truly won that game due to lucky bounces.  While one may argue that talented teams and skilled players create their own luck; that would be giving the Penguins too much credit.  The first goal went off of Strait’s stick, the third goal went off of Nielsen’s stick, and the OT winner went off the stick of Boyes.  It’s hard to fault Nabokov or the Isles for any of that – it was just plain bad luck for them and great luck for the Penguins.  On the flip side, Vokoun seemed to get a couple of quick whistles and the Isles did miss the net on their wide open chances on the crease.  So despite the Isles really dominating in shots, turnovers, and overall play, the Penguins stole the game and the series.

Early Timeout: I was not a fan of Bylsma’s timeout just 1:19 into the game due to an icing call.  While I understand that he didn’t want the Isles to score a quick goal and set the tone early, the Penguins are an extremely talented team and can generally overcome a 1, or even 2 goal deficit, especially with most of the game remaining.  That timeout is generally more important to this roster late in the game with little time left when you want to double shift Sid/Malkin and the other stars when they are exhausted from a full game already.  Everything worked out in the end, but that’s a bad timeout in my opinion.

Defensive Adjustments: The Penguins defensemen all did something very nice in Game 5 that continued into Game 6 and should help next round as well.  All of them were far more patient with the puck in the defensive zone and they held it a lot longer as their forwards moved into open areas.  Instead of forcing a bad pass, the defense as a whole took their time to read the play and make a smart decision (though it didn’t work out anyways many times).  While the stretch pass should work better against Ottawa since they are a slower team than the Isles, it was a big step forward to see the defense confident just holding the puck and deciding whether they wanted to skate it up, make a pass, or just wait it out.  The ability to decide whether to slow the game down or speed it up will be very important next round.  The defense finally looks like they are taking advantage of that ability.

Series Thoughts

Series in Review:

  • Game 1 – Veteran Penguins Dominate Wide-Eyed, Happy-to-be-Here Islanders Team
  • Game 2 – Islanders Use Boards Behind the Net to Bounce Back Into the Series
  • Game 3 – Powerplay Carries Penguins over the Islanders on Hotly Debated Overtime Call
  • Game 4 – Fleury Relives 2012 Nightmares as the Islanders Pull Even Once Again
  • Game 5 – Penguins Ride a Goaltending Change to Their Second Shutout of the Series
  • Game 6 – Islanders Let Themselves Out After Deflecting Three Goals into Their Own Net

Positives: Two very big takeaways from this series: 1) The Penguins overcame many defensive and goaltending demons to get out of the first round for the first time since 2010, and 2) NO MAJOR INJURIES.  When was the last time you saw a team go through a tough playoff series and escape healthier than when they started?  The Penguins will enter the second round as healthy as they could be.  That is a big thing to remember as we say goodbye to the first round.

Pascal Dupuis goal

Dupuis celebrates his team-leading 5th goal of the series. (Kathy Willens/AP Photo)

Series MVP: Perhaps this is biased because he was my series MVP prediction, but give it up for Pascal Dupuis.  He led the team with 5 goals (Crosby next with 3), and all of them were at even strength.  His play in the defensive zone was strong when no one else knew what to do there and he led a greatly improved penalty killing unit.  Other candidates: Tomas Vokoun for shutting the door when needed, Douglas Murray for having a strong series and 2 unexpected goals, and Evgeni Malkin for his frustrating, but somehow overlooked 11 points.

Overall: Looking back at this series, it is a blessing that the Pens are unlikely to face this kind of team speed again in the playoffs.  The Isles were a very bad matchup for the Penguins and they still found a way to survive it.  The only other team left that I put in that category as I write this is Toronto if they move on.  The Penguins were very much outworked and outplayed most of the series.  They had 2 dominant wins, and 4 toss-up games that leaned towards the Islanders.  Luckily, the Penguins stole 2 of those games in OT despite being outplayed.  It’s a relief to move on and hopefully a lesson learned.  The Penguins will face much stronger goalies moving forward (Nabokov was truly awful), but their system should work better against most teams left.  The Pens also looked like a great team any time the Isles backed off with their speed (Games 1 and 5, and late in Game 6).  Thank the Isles for not stepping on the gas late in Game 6.

Goalie Decisions: Here’s the big one moving into the 2nd round, who starts in the net?  While I’m a Fleury guy, I have to say Vokoun should be the Game 1 starter.  Vokoun earned it with a shutout and strong play in Game 6 too.  Looking back at the 3 goals he allowed: one was a great shot by Tavares who wasn’t even covered, the next one was a one-timer on a pass across the crease that wasn’t defended at all, and the last one was a pass across the slot that wasn’t defended at all.  Vokoun had no chance at the latter two, and while Fleury has a higher percentage chance of making those saves, they aren’t expected out of any goalie.  Fleury will get his time again, but when Vokoun has allowed 1 goal that he even had a chance at stopping (and it was from a Hart candidate), he should keep the crease.  He has earned it and I’m willing to bet even Fleury would agree with that statement.  I still firmly believe Fleury is the guy who will win this team the Cup, but Vokoun should stay in until there’s SOME reason to question him at least.

Playoff Outlook: A popular question now is how the “struggle” against the Isles changes one’s outlook of how the Penguins will do in this year’s playoffs.  My response – don’t change your expectations.  This team got past a HUGE hurdle for them and they will be better for it.  As a fan, forget everything from Round 1 except the goalie situation, it’s on to Round 2.

+/- Assessment

1st Goal Against (Tavares): – for

  • Murray – doesn’t have quickness or foot speed to chase Bailey into the corner, giving him time with the puck
  • Kunitz – doesn’t chase Bailey to help out Murray and doesn’t pay attention to Tavares sliding into open space
  • Neal – watches Tavares sliding into open space but doesn’t move towards him until it’s too late

1st Goal For (Iginla): + for

  • Martin – carries the puck out of the defensive zone and passes to Crosby skating through the neutral zone
  • Crosby – carries the puck past everyone and puts a backhander on Nabokov that he can’t handle well
  • Iginla – crashes the net and pushes Strait’s stick to the puck, which goes into the net (I still haven’t seen an angle where Iginla actually touches it)

2nd Goal Against (McDonald): – for

  • Martin – loses a puck battle to Grabner as he’s looking to see where everyone else is instead of playing the puck
  • Orpik – leaves his position to go behind the net to help Martin, leaving both defensemen in bad position and a guy uncovered in front of the net
  • Iginla – watches the puck battle behind the net instead of noting where Aucoin or McDonald are, lets the pass across the crease through to McDonald

2nd Goal For (Dupuis): + for

  • Niskanen – sends puck up from the neutral zone to Vitale entering the offensive zone with speed
  • Vitale – takes to the puck towards the right corner and passes in front for Dupuis
  • Dupuis – shoots the puck past Nabokov’s blocker

3rd Goal Against (Grabner): – for

  • Letang – gives the puck away in the defensive zone as he looks for a pass
  • Niskanen – starts off in position after the giveaway, but leaves the passing lane between Aucoin and Grabner and ends up out of position

3rd Goal For (Martin): + for

  • Malkin – takes the puck coast to coast while the rest of the line changes, passes back to Martin
  • Martin – one-times the puck, which goes off of Nielsen and past Nabokov

4th Goal For (Orpik): + for

  • Malkin – enters the corner in time to keep the Isles from clearing the puck, moves the puck over to Kennedy, gets it back, and moves it to Kennedy again
  • Kennedy – passes the puck to Malkin, takes a pass back and moves it to Orpik at the point
  • Orpik – takes a shot that goes off of Boyes and past Nabokov

Playoffs +/-:  Click here for the Playoffs +/- Spreadsheet