As the saying goes, the series hasn’t started until someone wins on the road; if that’s the case, it was mission accomplished for the New York Islanders. The Islanders came away with an all-important road win in the first game of this best-of-seven, a 4-3 overtime win on Sunday afternoon. Things were looking fine for Pittsburgh up to the 12:25 mark of the second period when Jeff Carter was called for a high-sticking double minor. Although the Islanders would not score on the man advantage, the game began to tilt in New York’s favor. After Andy Greene was called for interference on Carter at 17:46 of the second period, the penalty minutes were 6-4 in the home team’s favor.
Thereafter, the referees, notoriously particular about not wanting to call too many penalties in one direction or the other, swallowed their whistles and didn’t call a single penalty for the remainder of the game. This worked to the Islanders advantage, of course, and they got away with all sorts of obstruction that would otherwise have been called. New York would take a 3-2 lead that would only last for about thirty seconds when Kasperi Kapanen tied the game for Pittsburgh with just over 3.5 minutes to go in the game. Despite the Penguins getting plenty of opportunities in overtime, it was Kyle Palmieri scoring his second of the game for the Islanders that gave New York the win. Unlike in 2019, Pittsburgh had plenty of good opportunities all game long to turn the game in their favor and for good. They had three power plays that produced nothing. According to Natural Stat Trick, they led the Islanders in even strength scoring chances (33-20) and high-danger scoring chances (10-6). It was not for a lack of effort or quality that the Penguins couldn’t win, and this despite the absence of Evgeni Malkin.
It was at the other end of the ice that Pittsburgh lost the game, and very specifically Tristan Jarry. Jarry allowed two more goals than expected, including two from “low-danger” areas: Palmieri’s first goal, the opening goal of the game, an unscreened but contested shot from the inside of the top of the right face-off circle; and Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s tally that tied the game at 2, another unscreened and even more uncontested shot from atop the left face-off circle. Jarry had plenty of time to see and prepare for both of these shots, and he got beaten past his glove hand on both. Add Brock Nelson’s goal that slipped through his body and glove arm to make the game 3-2 and Palmieri’s roofed shot glove side to win the game and, well…Jarry’s likely to have been peppered with shots to his glove hand side in practice yesterday.
I hate having to say this again, knowing the whole “fool-me-once/fool-me-twice” axiom, but if the Islanders let Pittsburgh play another game tonight like they had in Game 1, the result almost always will not be the same again. That being said, the Penguins have to play better as a team if they want to win hockey games, and the results were definitely mixed.
It’s a tough night when Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust are not up there with Sidney Crosby, but look at the defense: Brian Dumoulin and Cody Ceci were the only players not to have major negative impacts on the Penguins’ overall performance. Kris Letang is neutral here, which is not good. Marcus Pettersson and John Marino could not escape the fact that they played the fewest minutes of any defensemen. I felt like Matheson played worse than this chart shows, which could have something to do with having to adjust to a full face shield. Generally though I felt like there was a lot of nerviness throughout the defense and not a lot of quality. When I looked back at the Islanders’ goals, the Penguins were trying to have active sticks but the Islanders forwards were just a little better. If the Penguins defense was a little sharper, many if not all of those shots are dampened. But the primary blame on those goals remains with Jarry.
New York has been announcing their gameplan for this series to anyone and everyone who will listen: they plan to be patient. They will wait out the Penguins and wait for the ideal time to counterattack. They did it all series long in 2019 and they were able to do it in Game 1 as well. The Penguins have to be sharper in Game 2, or else this series risks going just the same way as two years ago.