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Insider Only What We Learned: Situational Awareness sinks Pens in Game 1; Reigning-in Letang a must moving forward

Game 1: Penguins – Islanders What We Learned

Penguins – Islanders felt like at least a six game series coming in and Game 1 did nothing to dispute that notion.

Some of the expected played out:

The Islanders forecheck and speed/energy game caused the Penguins fits in stretches. Pittsburgh was not ready to play at the drop of the puck and were very fortunate come out of the Islanders 3-4 minute opening period surge not to be down 2-0. If that type of start happens again for the Penguins in Game 2, shame on them. There will be no excuse Friday night for the Penguins to come out and play the way they did in the first couple minutes of Game 1.

As the game progressed Pittsburgh adapted, but the amount of momentum swinging shifts from a speed/physical standpoint was clearly in the Islanders favor in Game 1 and that’s a key recipe for success for the Isles in Round 1.

What we also saw play out in this one was the Penguins superior overall skill overwhelm the Islanders for spurts that saw the Penguins control possession at near 60%, despite a rare poor game from the Penguins top-line. Pittsburgh’s controlled entries were strong in breaking the Islanders neutral zone trap and in periods two and three the Penguins were creating offense inside the circles where Robin Lehner had to stand on his head 3-4 times in the final 40 minutes of regulation.

The Dominik Simon – Nick Bjugstad – Phil Kessel line was tremendous. Phil Kessel was back in 2016-2017 type playoff form, scoring a first period goal and the line was at 73% in possession. Kessel and Simon were the Penguins two best forwards in Game 1.

Pittsburgh also got a strong game from the second line of Jared McCann – Evgeni Malkin – Patric Hornqvist. The line controlled possession at a great rate, on the ice for 19 shot attempts and just 4 against. Pittsburgh outshot the Islanders 10-2 when the Malkin line was on the ice. Possession is great but putting pucks in the net is what matters.

Malkin can be at his best and roam offensively when has a puck hunter with speed on his line that can track pucks and do the dirty work down low. Jared McCann was that factor on the Malkin line in Game 1. A thing to watch moving forward, though, is whether having McCann + Hornqvist on Malkin’s wing is too much jam and not enough individual 1-on-1 skill. Of the two, McCann looks like a keeper with the line because he’s head and shoulders above Hornqvist in being able to create 1-on-1 offense.


Numbers That Matter (5 vs 5, per Natural Stat Trick)

Scoring Chances
NYI 35 (52.3%) – PIT 32 (47.8%)
High Danger Chances
NYI 15 (51.7%) – PIT 14 (48.3%)
GOALS FOR
NYI 3 – PIT 1

Pittsburgh’s significant edge in possession and Shots For +11 (44-33) in all situations and +13 (37-24) in 5 vs 5 play, was off-set by the Islanders ability to create chances with less puck possession and that’s how they’ve played all season and built a 104 point season.

Scoring Chances, High Danger Chances and 5 vs 5 Scoring For/Against.

New York was the better team in all three areas.

Game 2 will be telling on whether this continues and If it does, you can bet those so called ‘fixable issues from the Penguins in Game 1 continued in Game 2.


WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE PENGUINS & BLUELINE DECISION LOOMS AGAIN

This was a series coming in where the Penguins playing a patient game offensively by turning defense into offense would eventually be the best recipe for success. The type of style the Penguins showed in Kris Letang’s initial 11 game absence in late February and into March.

Instead it was one of those nights where skaters 1-5 were constantly leaving their lanes and had just a total lack of situational awareness.

Good news for the Penguins is under Mike Sullivan they always show a great ability to sure things up the next night, but a lot of what we saw from the Penguins in Game 1 is what we’ve seen for stretches this season.

The Josh Bailey overtime goal was a fitting way for the Penguins lose as the type of poor situational awareness Letang had late on a shift in trying to go 1-on-3 happened all night. Maybe even worse was Letang floating back on the backcheck.

“It’s everything we talked about for the last couple of days, just making sure we manage the puck and we have situational awareness in mind,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “Late in shifts, especially when it’s a long change from the bench, you’ve got to make good decisions with the puck. If we had numbers and an opportunity for a potential scoring chance, I think that’s a calculated risk. I’m not sure we had the awareness that we needed in that situation.”

That’s Mike Sullivan talking straight to Kris Letang and these type of situations just have to get out of Letang’s game when you’re in the postseason. You can live with the risky calculated play in the regular season but not now as finding a way to rein-in Letang was a major focus point for the Penguins coaching staff even going back to last summer.

As they’re still finding out, good luck with that.

The Islanders having a shot in this series is Letang looking like the Kris Letang of the 2018 playoffs and that’s a reason the Islanders coaching staff has game planned rigorously for how to attack Letang. Aside from the OT miscue, the Islanders had great success in attacking Letang on the forecheck as Letang looked timid retrieving pucks.

From Letang on down, it was just a really bad night for the Penguins blueline.

Brian Dumoulin had a strong finish to the game but he was uncharacteristically bad positionally for the first half of the game, leaving the net front on the Eberle goal and chasing a hit on the penalty kill later on.

Then there’s Olli Maatta.

Don’t even know where to start with how bad of a performance it was for Maatta. His play kept gradually getting worse from the icing call to turning the puck over seconds later on the Nick Leddy go-ahead goal to getting walked by Tom Kuhnhackl in OT on a reviewable non-goal. Somehow Pittsburgh’s d-men group made Tom Kuhnhackl look like Connor McDavid in Game 1.

Has Maatta put his lineup spot in jeopardy for Game 2?

Pittsburgh’s decision on who to scratch for Game 1 came down to Jack Johnson and Want the Full Story? Get "Inside Access"

About The Author

William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at wdepaoli@insidepittsburghsports.com

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