Photo from nhl.com
Don’t be fooled by the scores in the first three games of the playoffs. Don’t even be fooled by the Islanders’ 4-3 overtime victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 1. Your eyes should tell you something different about this series.
The Islanders have been outplayed by the Penguins in all three games, and that explains why the Penguins are taking a 2-1 series lead after their 5-4 victory Thursday night at Nassau Coliseum.
The Islanders have 24 hours to take stock and self-assess themselves before Game 4 Saturday afternoon. They have so much to think about. If they are honest with themselves, they will know they have been beaten by the Penguins at their own game.
The Penguins played more physically than the Islanders. They dictated the puck for most of the series. They found a way to score ugly goals. They made the Islanders play catch-up. They took advantage of the Islanders leaky defense. They forced turnovers. In other words, the Penguins played Islanders hockey.
Here’s the bottom line: The Islanders came nowhere close to the team that swept the Penguins in the playoffs two years ago.
To come out flat for the third straight game, especially Game 3 at home is troubling. To start from behind again is a recipe for a loss. This tells you why the Islanders are behind in the series. Quite frankly, the Penguins should be up by three games.
Here are four solutions to change all that:
The Islanders need to admit they have gotten outplayed. It’s as simple as that. By being in denial and thinking things are going to change from one game to another is a fallacy. They have to get off to a good start. They need to set the tone. They need to make their presence felt. They need to take charge. They just have to play better, especially defensively.
The Islanders power-play must be better than this. Yes, Anthony Beauvillier scored a power-play goal that tied the game at 3 at 5:54 in the third period. But other than that, it was just one power-play goal. Yes, it’s hard to score power-play goals. Yes, the Islanders got by last year. But they have to do much better than this. They are 1-for-7 in the power play in three games. They had four power-play opportunities in Game 3, and they only got one. This is just not cutting it. The 6-for-4 power-play attempt with few minutes to go in Game 2 was laughable. Only Oliver Wahlstrom registered one shot in that sequence, and then the Penguins cleared the puck out of the zone. That was your hockey game in that game. The comeback was futile. It’s time for the Islanders to stop passing and shooting the puck when it comes to the power-play. Make it simple.
Mat Barzal, Jordan Eberle and Beauvillier need to play better. While Beauvillier scored that power-play goal last night, he really hasn’t been an impact player. Neither has Barzal and Eberle. Has Barzal even registered a shot? It sure doesn’t look like it. He has been passive at best. Same with Eberle and Beauvillier. If the Islanders’ best players can’t play like the best players they were in the playoffs last year, this series will be a short series. Those three must set the tone. As great as their fourth line is, it can’t be their best line in the playoffs.
Start Ilya Sorokin, and hope for the best. This sounds desperate, but that’s the only card the Islanders have left. Varlamov did fine in Game 2, but he was awful in Game 3. He needed to make big saves when the Islanders needed him the most. He couldn’t come up with one. He had opportunities to redeem himself, especially after Cal Clutterbuck tied the game at 4. He gave up a softie on a Brandon Tanev goal that had the Penguins win the game. If he can’t come through, it’s time to change goaltenders. I supported Varlamov playing Games 2 and 3 since he has been their guy all season, but after a sieve-like performance on Thursday night, time for a goaltending change has come. Sure, it is a desperate move, but the Islanders are in a desperate situation by being down 2-1. A shakeup couldn’t hurt.
This does not have to be a lost cause. It’s only three games. It’s okay to be concerned. It’s okay to admit the Islanders stunk.
They can get right back at it with a good performance and a victory Saturday afternoon. They just need to make it the best-of-3 and go from there. But they have no more room for error. They used all of it in the first three games. They have to do better than they have shown in all three games.
They were fortunate to win in overtime in a Game 1 they didn’t play great. But again, they need to get it together starting Saturday or else this could be a short series.
Yes, missing Anders Lee hurts them in a series, which he can by being physical and score the greasy goals. But teams go through injuries. It’s about finding a way to win. The Islanders need to rise above this.
Maybe they fall short in the series in the end, but the Islanders can dictate something in this series.
They can play better than they showed in the first three games of the first-round series.