The Penguins lost a playoff overtime game (again), and fall behind in the series to the Islanders (again). It’s a familiar script, but also only just one game in a seven game series.
Here are some areas the team needs to improve on, keep the same or get better results as they look to even the series in Game 2 tomorrow night.
Keep up the 5v5 pressure
It’s been lost in the shuffle, but Pittsburgh was a much better team for most of the team. Natural Stat Trick had 5v5 scoring chances at 33-20 Pens and high danger chances at 11-6 in favor of Pittsburgh for Game 1.
Goaltending is often the great equalizer, and was yesterday. Unfortunately for the Pens, as you may have heard, Tristan Jarry didn’t have a great game. He gave up three goals on what was classified as “low danger chances” based off where they came from on the ice (in other words, far out shots have a low percentage of going in the net against an NHL goalie).
Per moneypuck, Jarry had a .970 save% on low danger chances this year, an .863 save% on medium danger chances and a .636% on high danger. Which, makes sense, it’s tougher to stop the harder shots. Jarry slipped in Game 1, but he’s been able to keep the low danger stuff out before. Pittsburgh will need him to rebound to that level.
But, overall, there was a lot to like at 5v5 for the Pens, especially in the game’s first 40 minutes. They were the better team, but Ilya Sorokin performed great and found a way to make a few tough saves. Then again, he also wasn’t perfect or a complete brick wall either.
Interestingly, it’s worth noting and pointing out the Pens scored from about the same exact spot in the slot on all three goals. They had no trouble getting to that excellent spot in the middle of the ice down low and were also able to generate chances from even closer at the net-front. A little more finish, luck, whatever you want to call it in Game 2 with the same process if Pittsburgh can work to earn chances on NYI and they should be in great shape.
Power play woes
Pittsburgh got six full minutes on the power play. It didn’t go well, and the inability to score let the Isles hang around and go into the third period only down one goal. As Gretz pointed out, this came back to bite the Pens big time.
Kris Letang was able to get a few pucks on net, but otherwise, this isn’t a pretty picture. That little green circle for the Islanders is very noteworthy, it probably represents the best scoring chance that happened in the game while Pittsburgh was on the power play. And it was for NYI. Jarry had to make a good stop on J.G Pageau to prevent a total meltdown.
It’s tough to ignore the absence of Malkin in any context, but it’s an easy call when the power play is struggling. Malkin is less than 100% but he also is a player with 169 career playoff points in 166 games, with a history of raising his level of play at this time of year. Not having Malkin available stands out when watching the power play putter when it really needed a goal.
Needless to say, the Penguins miss him. The Malkin effect is great and important — if only to push Jeff Carter and Jared McCann down to a third line, making the Pens that much more difficult to defend and counter.
The health and status of a player with an injury isn’t an area that the team can really control, but still could be a huge difference maker later in the series when and if Malkin is capable of returning. That day can’t come quick enough for the team.
Trust John Marino
One big development was how Mike Sullivan chose to deploy his defensemen in Game 1. Brian Dumoulin and Kris Letang got huge minutes. That’s totally to be expected, but the scope of their workload was fairly surprising. Both played almost 27 5v5 minutes, out of a game with a little over 66 5v5 minutes. That makes up almost 40% of the game for the 8-58 pair on the ice.
The surprise might have been just how much the Mike Matheson and Cody Ceci pair was leaned on. Those two played 24 5v5 minutes, nearly as much as the first pair.
That left John Marino (15 5v5 minutes) and Marcus Petterson (just over 15 as well) in the dust. Unfortunately it was “one of those games” for Marino, who ended up on the ice for three goals against, even though that’s more a result of bad luck and poor goaltending than the defender’s own poor play. Overall, the Pens held a 8-2 scoring chance edge when Marino was on the ice. He had one of the team’s best Corsi% games as well.
Sullivan should go back to Marino and work him in more and find additional shifts and minutes for him. His play merits it and he’s likely to help the team in the games ahead, but he can’t do that from the bench.
The ebb and flows of the playoffs have been a lot more “flow” than “ebb” as of late for the Penguins...Or is it the other way around? Anyway, you get it. The Pens got swept in 2019 by NYI and bounced quickly from the 2020 Toronto bubble in a forgettable fashion. They’ve had rotten results mostly in overtime in recent memory. It’s been a long time since good things have happened for the Pens in the postseason, including the loss yesterday.
But, overall, that’s why it’s a seven game series and not one game. Adjustments can and will be made that could swing a game or a series. Malkin might return and help give the team a boost with the potential for his help on the power play, and also restore the depth and balance of the lineup. The Pens didn’t get the win, but they can feel pretty good about their process at 5v5 as they prepare to get back to even in Game 2.