Now that Game 1 between the Islanders and Penguins is over, the time in between will no doubt be used by the coaches on both sides to review and tweak. Adjustments in a playoff series is the name of the game. It’s punch and counter-punch for the men behind the bench, and Mike Sullivan vs. Barry Trotz is always a fun one to watch.
Here’s what Sullivan will have to be looking and at considering as he looks at how to fine tune his team for the next time out.
#1 Getting more from the first line
It’s difficult to be too critical over a single game when it comes to the Penguins’ first line, because they have been so consistently good over the course of a season. That said, Game 1 was not the finest moment for Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel.
Given how well the other lines played, Sullivan might be hesitant to solve this via a personnel decision, and just let his stars have a chance to get on track.
One interesting aspect is how the Islanders like to start their fourth line for periods. While this should be an advantage for Pittsburgh to match Guentzel-Crosby against the likes of Matt Martin - Casey Cizikias - Cal Clutterbuck last night right off the bat it proved trouble.
Cizikias won the opening faceoff, the Isles controlled the play and 31 seconds into the game the puck was in the net. (It would be overturned as a goal due to an offsides). But that play really set the tone early and Pittsburgh was reeling.
Next shift out, and just 1:40 into the game, the Crosby line got scored on by NYI’s first line. The Crosby line was also on the ice in the third period for Nick Leddy’s point shot that put New York ahead with 7 minutes to go.
Is the adjustment to not collapse from the points so much? Or simply hope Crosby (the best faceoff player on the team) wins more in the future? Sid was an uncharacteristic 10-of-24 (42%) in the circle last night - he was 55.4% in the regular season, among the league leaders.
Given the talent involved, out of everything this seems like maybe Sullivan makes a small tweak in strategy but can be comfortable to expect a better performance out of his best players in Game 2 after a poor Game 1.
#2 So, um, about the defense
There’s no doubt the Pens new-look defense did not shine in Game 1. Whether it was Brian Dumoulin (documented here), Olli Maatta or Kris Letang, some of the players they count on the most weren’t the most sharp.
Also, not for nothing, but the three named players haven’t been back that long from injury. That’s no excuse this time of year but it probably is no coincidence that the intensity of the NHL playoffs made for a rocky situation for those players - particularly Dumoulin who played last night for the first time since March 31st.
Anyways, the team has to do a better job than this in Game 2.
Pittsburgh keeping the Islanders to the inside last night pic.twitter.com/DdLipPqATT— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) April 11, 2019
After a somewhat shaky start by goalie Matt Murray, I thought he really settled down and looking back you can point to about five or six really big saves he made on what could have been goals. Natural Stat Trick had all situations as 41-41 Scoring Chances and 19-16 for NYI in High Danger Scoring Chances.
Murray gave up the early goal, then had no shot on a first period power play goal and then held the fort all the way until seven minutes left in the third period. Shutting the door like that is probably going to be necessary with Robin Lehner playing as well as he did. Murray keeping out any ES goals for that, what 52 minute stretch in the middle of the game was a crucial point, and a good one. If the Pens can go super long stretches like that without conceding ES goals, the chances their offense can come to life and win a game goes way up.
#3 Maybe just calm down a little
While the Pens and Sullivan can stress puck management and making better decisions (both reasonable, and pretty much always necessary) there’s also some evidence that there’s no reason to panic.
The Pens lost Game 1, but they need more small tweaks than major overhauls at this point. Personnel switches or changes might just be for the sake of changing right now, the pieces are in the right places, they just need to play better.
There’s no need to overthink anything and put in a bad player back into the lineup who isn’t going to solve the problems.
Pittsburgh still did a lot of things well last night, and held a fairly sizeable xG advantage of 2.46 to 1.78 in the second and third periods, and outscored NYI 2-1 in those two periods. Get a better start, clean up some defensive issues and get the first line on track and you’ve solved 95% of all the issues from Game 1.
A best of seven game series isn’t won (or lost) in the first game. There are always a lot of twists and turns and momentum swings to be had. The Pens took a good shot from the Islanders in Game 1, but the Pens also probably played what you could call, charitably, a C+ game for them and NYI probably played a B+ or better.
Pittsburgh will have to be better in Game 2, and given playoff history and success you can probably expect them to be prepared to do so by the coaching staff.