There’s no hiding how disappointing the Penguins’ blueliners performed in their Game 1 OT loss with the Islanders. They seemed to struggle from the initial puck drop all the way to the final horn.
They allowed tons of backdoor chances, let Islanders waltz into the slot untouched, got walked on a lot of toe drags and dekes, committed turnovers in bunches, and were “too aggressive” in their last shift in overtime that led to the game-winner by Josh Bailey — just to name a few. To be honest, these blunders have plagued the Penguins all season.
But what came as the most unpleasant surprise was the poor return of Brian Dumoulin from his nagging lower-body injury.
Dumoulin is the most consistently solid defensive-defenseman on the team — he might even be one of the best players in the entire league in that role. But it was evident that having to sit out the final week of the regular season to properly heal was enough to let some rust develop.
Time after time, Dumoulin was caught out of position during Islanders’ shifts in the Penguins’ defensive zone. He’d lose track of his man and fail to get back and find him before it was too late.
This was most obvious on Jordan Eberle’s opening tally to give the Islanders a 1-0 lead directly after the Penguins won the challenge for offside on Tom Kuhnhackl’s goal about a minute prior.
As the puck cycled around the boards to the left point, Dumoulin started to head up into the middle of the zone, gifting Eberle with a wide-open, net-front lane behind him to slip an uncontested rebound try past Matt Murray.
A thing of beauty!! @jeberle_7 pic.twitter.com/xyKglB9Tx9— x - New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) April 10, 2019
Dumoulin was also caught out of position on Brock Nelson’s power play goal. He tried rushing back to pick up the man he lost track of, but Nelson already planted himself in front of Murray and patiently waited for the easy dish and score.
Got one on the power play— x - New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) April 11, 2019
What a look, @BNelson! #Isles pic.twitter.com/MxNVDNnJgy
And, finally, Dumoulin was also one of the players to blame for the final nail in the coffin in overtime.
After Letang lost the puck in the offensive zone, the Islanders grouped together to form what looked like an odd-man rush against the Penguins (it was either a 3-on-1 or a lop-sided 2-on-2). Mathew Barzal made a great move to get Dumoulin to miss a poke check and drop to his knees. The dangle created a chunk of space in front of Murray. Letang was still sprinting back, so no one was there to slide in and help pick him up. Barzal waited and waited and then wristed a puck that clanked off the left post. Letang finally got back but ran into directly into Murray in the process, knocking his netminder off his skates. And in the chaos, Bailey was there to scoop up the rebound and punch it in. Dumoulin tried to block it with his leg, but failed.
Bailey wins it in OT! pic.twitter.com/2edd3msKlN— NHL GIFs (@NHLGIFs) April 11, 2019
That makes three out of the four Islanders’ goals that Dumoulin was a part of. A huge eyesore.
Of course it would be foolish to only blame No. 8 for Pittsburgh’s performance and outcome — he did have to enter the locker room in the first period after taking a high hit to go through concussion protocol. But the rest of the Penguins’ defenders also had a rough outing.
Luckily these types of mistakes are fixable, and there’s no doubt Mike Sullivan and Jaques Martin are drilling the above film into the defensemen’s heads today to prepare for Game 2 and come out a little less scatter-brained and a little more composed. It’ll be interesting to see if a knee-jerk reaction follows suit and we see a different combination of defensive pairings come Friday.
It’s easy to react with fire and hellstorms after a Game 1 loss to go 0-1 right off the bat, but there are seven potential games in a playoff series. You have take them one at a time.