After Game 1, New York Islanders have a 1-0 series lead over Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Islanders could not have asked for a better start. They controlled the opening faceoff and were able to get a puck past Matt Murray, just 33 seconds into the game. The goal was overturned on an obvious offside call, but the tone was set. Just 1:07 later, they got a goal that was indisputable, scored by Jordan Eberle from Anders Lee and Adam Pelech.
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The Penguins were able to settle down the pace a bit after the goal. After a few good looks from the new-look Evgeni Malkin line, Jared McCann and Patric Hornqvist, Pittsburgh broke through with a goal by Phil Kessel from Dominik Simon and Brian Dumoulin. While much of the play in the first period was played in the Islanders defensive zone, New York was able to control the physicality of the game. At times the Penguins defensemen seemed to be bracing for hits rather than playing the puck.
When the Pens tried to match physicality with the Isles, they gave up ice position. One example led to a cross-checking penalty on Marcus Petterson. On the ensuing power play, the Islanders capitalized with a goal by Brock Nelson from Eberle and Devan Toews. While there was a few more big hits from the Islanders and a few more good scoring chances from the Pens, the rest of the first period was relatively quiet.
The Penguins inability to clear the defensive zone paired with the Islanders aggressive forecheck led to the penalty that eventually gave New York 2-1 lead.
Early in the second period, the Islanders were visibly frustrating the Penguins with the way they clogged the neutral zone. There was a point in the first three minutes that the Isles were able to keep the Pens in the neutral zone for 40 seconds while possessing the puck. The first five minutes of the second was a great back and forth battle, with teams trading chances at both ends. The goaltenders had to stand tall, while the defenders done a good job of limiting high-danger chances.
The momentum tilted a bit when Phil Kessel took an ill-advised tripping penalty. While Pittsburgh was able to kill the penalty, the Islanders generated a few good looks. The best chance coming off of an Eberle one-timer from the Ovi circle.
One of the underrated aspects of the game was the officiating. Sure, there was some missed calls, but this crew did a fantastic job of maintaining control of the game. There was not a lot of post-whistle pushing and shoving. When there was, the refs were not afraid to even up penalties and let the teams play 4 a side.
There were a few good chances traded, including a Kessel breakaway out of the penalty box, but eventually Leo Komarov took a very bad offensive zone penalty for holding at 8:33. The Penguins only mustered 3 shots on goal, two by Sidney Crosby, on the ensuing power play. At the immediate conclusion of that penalty, Evgeni Malkin and Scott Mayfield got matching minors for roughing. This is an element of Malkin’s game that the team has to learn to control. Trading Geno for Mayfield is not an even trade, especially considering how much a 4 on 4 game suits Malkin’s play style.
Without Malkin on the ice, the Islanders controlled much of the possession at 4 on 4. When the Penguins gained possession, Jake Guentzel and Crosby were able to get an odd-man rush and draw an interference penalty. On the abbreviated power play, Pittsburgh got the equalizer. Evgeni Malkin ripped a wrister off an Islanders stick and past Robin Lehner. The assists on the goal went to Justin Schultz and Phil Kessel.
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Much of the last six minutes were played in the New York defensive zone. Their best looks came from the third line of Nick Bjugstad, Dominik Simon and Kessel. New York had a few good looks from their fourth line of Casey Czikas, Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck. Matt Murray and Lehner were up to the task, and the remainder of the period was scoreless.
With the two instances of 4 on 4 hockey, the Islanders were forced to match speed with the Penguins. They struggled to establish their forecheck, which led to more clean exits and established zone times for Pittsburgh’s offense.
The early part of the 3rd started the same as every other period. Barry Trotz sent the Czikas line out, and they established their forecheck. Early in this period, it was quite evident that the referees had swallowed the whistles, as Jordan Eberle took two pretty obvious trips in the offensive zone. Shortly after that sequence, Clutterbuck got a beautiful look on Murray that required a highlight reel save.
Much of the third was a back and forth defensive struggle, with neither team really establishing dominance. At around the 9 minute mark, the refs made a questionable boarding call on Anders Lee. The incident left Pittsburgh without defenseman Erik Gudbranson for a while. The Pens had a few looks on the power play, but thankfully nothing came from the bad penalty call.
After a bad turnover at the blue line, by Matt Cullen, New York went on a 2 on 1 that was broken up by a beautiful diving poke check by Brian Dumoulin. Following two very bad icings by Pittsburgh, they were only able to get a four man change. This left defenseman Olli Maatta on the ice for well over a minute. He eventually made a bad turnover in his own zone that led to a goal by Nick Leddy from Valteri Fillpula and Leo Komarov.
New York kept pressing, forcing Murray to make a sequence of diving saves. A few minutes later, another pair of matching minors were called. The teams traded chances, with Evgeni Malkin and Bjugstad getting the best chance for Pittsburgh, while Matthew Barzal got a partial breakaway for New York.
Penguins chose to pull the goaltender with just under two minutes remaining. The move paid off as Kris Letang set up Justin Schultz with a one-timer from above the left faceoff circle. The secondary assist on the goal went to Malkin. The last 1:30 of the game did not decide thing, and we were off to overtime.
What an exciting finish to this game. Each team had to battle for space, and the goaltenders were outstanding in this period.
In overtime, your best players have to be your best players, and this game was not an exception. Crosby was finally able to outduel Czikas to start the period, and led to a few great chances in the first minute. Shortly thereafter, Maatta got dangled by Tom Kuhnackl, which led to a great scoring chance. The play was reviewed, and it was deemed that the net was off before the puck crossed.
There was a few minutes of lull following the review, with each team trading a few shots on goal. After a terrible turnover by Kris Letang, just inside the attacking zone, Josh Bailey finds Barzal, who goes in on an odd-man rush with Jordan Eberle. Barzal ripped a backhander off the left post, but Bailey was there to put the rebound in. After a brief review for offsides, the Islanders claim game one.
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One of the biggest gripes that Penguins fans had with this team was their propensity to give up odd man breaks. This play looked eerily similar to the play that ended their season last year.
New York Islanders: I have to go with Jordan Eberle here. He was noticeable on every play. One thing that may get overlooked is the play he made to set up the overtime goal. His center drive to the net pulled Brian Dumoulin away from Barzal, giving him just enough room to get off the clean backhand shot.
Pittsburgh Penguins: I am going with Phil Kessel here. Something about playoff hockey just brings out the best of Phil Kessel. He had a goal and an assist to go along with 5 shots on goal. People often criticize his defensive game, but he was pretty active on the backcheck and broke up a few chances.
New York Islanders: Scott Mayfield. Despite having only 18:32 of ice time, he was a -2, and had only 2 hits. He was very active in the shot blocking department, as he led all Islanders with 4 blocks.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Left Handed Defenseman. I could not pick just one of them here. All three of the LHD played pretty terrible for the Pens. Olli Maatta and Brian Dumoulin were each a -2, while Marcus Petterson took the penalty that led to the Islanders PPG.
Three Stars of the Game
- Jordan Eberle, 1G 1A 5SOG
- Josh Bailey, GWG
- Phil Kessel, 1G 1A 5 SOG
Potential for next game
The Islanders will look to maintain home-ice advantage on Friday at 7:30 p.m. on NBCSN/ CBC. They will have to maintain their physical play and continue to pressure the Penguins with their relentless forecheck. I don’t know if they will go with Robin Lehner or Thomas Greiss in net, but either will have to be stellar.
The Penguins coaching staff is going to have to revisit their lineup choices. I found it odd that they would scratch their leading hitter for a game against an opponent as physical as the Isles. I believe they will dress Jack Johnson in the next game, but that leaves the question as to who sits? Maybe they should just dress seven defenseman considering that Garrett Wilson and Zach Aston-Reese each played less than 9 minutes.
Those questions and others will be answered on Friday.
stats provided by NHL.com
featured image photo credit – Nikos Michals