It’s the middle of April and the Penguins are in the playoffs. That is the status quo. The Penguins are trailing three games to zero against the Islanders. That is not the status quo! When trying to quickly see or find out why things have gotten to this point, sometimes it’s a quick discovery that a goaltender might be flailing, that a penalty kill unit is struggling, or certain players just aren’t bringing anything to the table. Using data aggregated and visualized by Sean Tierney, perhaps we can get a little look at what the hell is going on.
Here, you can see that the Crosby units are drastically under-performing. That is a giant problem no matter which way you want to look at it. The underlying question for me — why did Sullivan break up the Dominik Simon - Nick Bjugstad - Patric Hornqvist line in the first place?
This seems to line up very well with the eye test. Brian Dumoulin and Kris Letang getting the lions share of quality chances — but even then, Letang has been responsible for his fair share of sloppy play. Marcus Pettersson and Erik Gudbranson have been serviceable. The pairing of Justin Schultz and Jack Johnson are — and stop me if you’ve heard this before — getting hammered while they’re out on the ice! Certainly no one saw this coming.
On the Islanders side of the coin, the top line of Anders Lee - Mathew Barzal - Jordan Eberle have been a wrecking crew and the 4th line (that I personally admittedly dumped on endlessly leading into this series) is doing a great job of creating pressure and chances on the regular as well.
Nothing negative to look at here. Top pairing or bottom pairing, they’re all keeping heads above water while on the ice, regardless of who they are playing against.
So....about goaltending. What in the actual hell is up with Robin Lehner?
Should just change lehner's number to a horseshoe— Eric (@emanatee) April 14, 2019
But for real, look at that. With just over 3 goals saved above average through 3 games, that is all you need to flip a series on its head. One goal is the difference in Game 1 alone, obviously. While Matt Murray’s performance is showing just over 2 goals allowed below average, for me, it’s hard to pin goaltending on the issue when the Penguins have scored two goals in the last two games — scored by offensive dynamos Erik Gudbranson and Garrett Wilson.
Seeing that Matt Murray and Robin Lehner have faced near identical workloads and the Expected Goals metrics line pretty closely, I think there is something to add about the fact that the Islanders are doing a very good job of insulating around Lehner. Every time the Penguins do get a chance and go to the net, it feels like they need to tightrope their way around 3 players to try and get a second crack at a loose puck.
At this point, it feels like it’s going to take a Herculean effort from the Penguins just to claw back into the series. We’ll find out tonight if the season is going to continue for one more game.