The home and home series between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins is of much more importance to the Islanders who took the first game of the home and home with a 5-4 shootout win on Friday night.
In a starter vs backup goaltending matchup, Chad Johnson played very poor and New York was able to come out with the win. This is an Islanders team looking to prove they are a top contender in the East and Metropolitan Division.
They’ve come into this home and home wanting to send a message and did in the first period, jumping out to a 3-1 lead.
The Islanders came out fast and their combination of speed, skill, often gets the Penguins into a pond hockey type of game and for the first 15 minutes of the game, it was extremely one sided as the Penguins managed just two shots through the first 15 minutes.
“Their start to the game was really good,” Penguins coach Mike Johnston said. “And our defensive positioning, we weren’t really stopping in position and really settling things up. We were trying to move rather than stop and defend.”
On the flip side, for all this talk that Johnston won’t treat the regular season like Dan Bylsma, Johnston prior to Friday’s game said he was treating this home and home series like a playoff series.
Pittsburgh got out-coached for one night by over-thinking this matchup by changing their offensive strategy and didn’t have their best six defensemen in the lineup with Simon Despres a healthy scratch.
It’s understandable that Johnston wanted to get Robert Bortuzzo involved and to potentially play physical against the Islanders group of skilled forwards but for a team that is fast and hard on the puck, Pittsburgh missed Despres new found ability to carry the puck out of difficult situations when pressured on the forecheck.
I’m not a huge backer of Despres but this is a matchup he’s suited for and do the Penguins really want to mess with his confidence? He’s extremely fragile.
An ideal lineup change for the Penguins upfront tonight would be Jayson Megna. The Penguins coaches came into Friday night wanting to wear down the Islanders defenseman off the cycle and Megna playing the best hockey of his career, gives the Penguins speed to get on the Islanders hard and get to loose pucks. Megna has seven goals and nine points in eight contests for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
One thing the Penguins have done very well under Johnston so far is rebound from from sub-par games and it will be interesting to see what type of adjustments the coaching staff has up their sleeve. Some of the problems, though, the Islanders forwards give the Penguins D are likely not going away, especially with a forward group that isn’t always committed to playing the defensive zone.
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