What: Game 4, first round, 2019 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs
When: 7:30 p.m. Eastern
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet in Pittsburgh, MSG+, NBCSN Nationally in America
Series Refresh: Game 1 was a see-saw of the Islanders taking three one-goal leads, and the Penguins forcing a tie three times. Josh Bailey won it in overtime for NYI joining a storied history of Pens’ OT games of this era. Game 2 saw another tight, defensive-minded game go into the third period tied before the Islanders again pulled away to win. Game 3 saw a slumping amount of sadness as the Pens kept playing worse, falling 4-1.
SBN Team Counterpart: Lighthouse Hockey
Anders Lee - Mathew Barzal - Jordan Eberle
Josh Bailey - Brock Nelson - Tom Kuhnhackl
Anthony Beauvillier - Valtteri Filppula - Leo Komarov
Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Cal Clutterbuck
Adam Pelech / Ryan Pulock
Nick Leddy / Scott Mayfield
Devon Toews / Johnny Boychuk
Starting goalie: Robin Lehner
—No changes from the first three games expected for the Islanders, and why would there be? Their defensive systems are working to frustrate the Pens, and their top forwards are scoring goals at key times.
Eberle making the difference
LHH focused on what the Islanders have done to frustrate the Pens, and the success of Jordan Eberle (a goal in all three games of the series so far) has been chief on the list.
Quite clearly, Barzal’s creativity helps unlocks Eberle, and Eberle has an ample supply of magic in his own right that allows Barzal an outlet. Now at the most important time of year, that creativity has been unleashed without sacrificing defensive reliability.
So Eberle’s first goal got things started in Game 1, followed by his power play assist to Brock Nelson. His dancing dash goal was the winner in Game 2, and his unreal sharp-angle shot — he called it, waving to Ryan Pulock for a pass to the goal line — tied the game and kept the Penguins from feeling good about themselves in Game 3.
Eberle has five points (3 goals + 2 assists) in the three games of the series. Barzal has four assists. Those two being the dominant offensive duo and not Crosby+Guentzel has really been a major difference in the games of this series.
And now for the Pens..
Be the smartest of your friends by sharing some of these tidbits (courtesy Penguins PR):
- Pittsburgh aims to keep the series alive with a victory tonight. This is the sixth time in club history that the Pens have trailed 0-3 in a series. They’ve been able to extend the series to at least a fifth game in two of the past three instances (2012 and 1997 both vs. Philadelphia).
- The Penguins are 17-7 all-time under head coach Mike Sullivan in the playoffs following a loss (7-1 in 2016; 7-2 in 2017; 3-2 in 2018; 0-2 in 2019). Penguins goaltender Matt Murray is 11-5 all-time in the playoffs following a loss.
- The Penguins’ lone tally in Game 3 resulted in a pair of players establishing NHL playoff firsts. Garrett Wilson scored the goal on a deflection in the slot. It was the first NHL playoff goal of his career. He tipped the point shot from Marcus Pettersson. That helper was the first NHL playoff point/assist of Pettersson’s career.
- Jared McCann returned to the lineup after missing Game 2 with an upper-body injury. McCann was a literal game-time decision, not getting the go-ahead to re-join the lineup until minutes before puck drop.
- The Penguins killed off a 5-on-3 disadvantage for the second-consecutive game. In Game 3, the Pens killed off a 53-second two-man advantage for the Isles.
Possible Lines (From Tuesday morning skate)
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Jared McCann
Bryan Rust -Evgeni Malkin - Phil Kessel
Dominik Simon - Nick Bjugstad - Patric Hornqvist
Zach Aston-Reese - Matt Cullen- Garrett Wilson
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Jack Johnson /Justin Schultz
Marcus Pettersson / Erik Gudbranson
Expected scratches: Olli Maatta (healthy), Chad Ruhwedel (upper-body injury), Zach Trotman (healthy) Teddy Blueger (healthy)
UPDATE: here’s the lines in morning skate, and yikes. Defense that has been slashed last two games is staying the same. McCann (who has 3 ES goals as a Penguin) is on the first line. Rust has never been excellent on the left wing and he’s back there now. Maatta and Blueger are still going to be in suits while lesser players will play. It’s not a great look.
—We’ll have to see what the changes are. Surely Sullivan will be throwing a lot at the wall to see what sticks, but the problem is he basically has been doing that already for the last two games, and the team responded with one of their worst games of the season during a lifeless Game 3.
The goals have dried up
Chris Adamski from the Trib pointed out the the muted offensive output for the Pens in the last week is really nothing new.
The Penguins’ struggles with scoring goals extend well back beyond the start of the postseason. Though winning masked the problem, the Penguins scored just 25 goals over the final 11 games of the regular season; in their final six games against playoff teams, they scored just 11 goals (1.83 per game).
In that context, producing five goals over the first three games (1.67 per game) of the series against the Islanders is largely just more of the same. In 14 games since March 16, the Penguins are averaging 2.14 goals per game — 1.78 against playoff teams.
Winning and injuries made many overlook or dismiss the end of the season slump, and goaltending helped cover up the problem too. Over the last 10 games of the season, Murray was a .935 save% 2.05 GAA goalie. (Though, the Pens only got him five wins in those ten games despite the solid numbers, which as Adamski points out the problems didn’t just pop up in the last week, it’s been an issue for a while).
In the playoffs Murray hasn’t been as sharp and has been a .902% goalie through the three games. Though with the limited offensive output he’s getting, plus sloppy defensive play not exactly helping the cause, this 0-3 hole isn’t much about the goaltender.
Still, if Murray was a .935% goalie in the playoffs, that’s already three less goals allowed on the 102 shots NYI has put on him. Stop one more in Game 1, or maybe get that Eberle goal that turned momentum in Game 3 and this series could look very different.
That said though, the Pens have scored a grand total of five goals in three games. Two of them have come from Gudbranson and Wilson - two of the three worst offensive players on the team. They don’t really deserve .935% goaltending to mask their problems any longer with that kind of pathetic performances they’re having.
Up against the wall
The Pens cancelled practice yesterday, which I can’t be too mad because what is one day at the rink really going to do at this point?
Crosby on being down 3-0: "It's not the position that you want to be in but I would love to be a part of a team that comes back from that." -SK— Pens Inside Scoop (@PensInsideScoop) April 15, 2019
That kind of quote is encouraging, but it’s hard to shake the image of Crosby one thousand yard staring off the bench at the end of Game 3. Obviously they need a reset and just to come out and play one good, full game. Is it possible? Well, I guess we’ll see.
It is weird to go out with a whimper and hockey players can be prideful players. Ideally the Pens can flush all the bad things that have happened to them lately and just come out and have a good shift. Then turn it into a good period. Then another. If they can do that and play with emotion but stay smart, there’s no reason they can’t book a flight back to New York.
But if they come out with slow legs, dead emotion, take penalties, collapse at the first sign of adversity, well, that will be a wrap on this season for sure. The Islanders have proven to be a very efficient and smart foil for Pittsburgh, there won’t be anything easy out there. So it will come down to how much the Pens have left in the tank physically and emotionally if they even want to keep going.