Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Pens 3 - Islanders 0: Analysis

If you just looked at the final score, you'd assume the Penguins handed the Islanders a sound defeat. You wouldn't have to look much further to realize that was far from the case. In truth, the Islanders were never really out of this contest until Jordan Staal put one into the vacated 4x6 from long range. Marc-Andre Fleury earned his 20th career shutout, but he truly had to work to earn the shutout (and the First Star award).

The Islanders came out with more energy than the Pens and were able to establish an uptempo game from the start. The Penguins, on the other hand, came out sluggish and looked sloppy. Fleury was called upon early and often, as the Islanders continued to get chances on net. The Islanders offense provided plenty of spark, but they simply lacked enough to get a fire going. The Islanders never really established a presence in front of Fleury, so the few rebound opportunities that the Pens goaltender gave up really weren't heavily contested. The Islanders did manage to drive to the outside and utilize the weak side wing on occasion, but couldn't make the most of the opportunities these tactics generated. The Pens defense did a reasonable job without Milan Michalek (broken finger) out of the lineup, managing to keep the Islanders mostly to the outside of the high-percentage slot areas and limiting second-chance opportunities. On a team with limited offensive weapons like the Islanders, the Pens defense should have been able to do a much more convincing job at shutting them down.

High-pressure defense by the Pens at the blueline forced a turnover and a good outlet pass by Orpik to a streaking Dupuis gave Pascal a one-on-one with Nabakov. In the game of chicken, the Islanders goaltender flinched first and dropped to his pads giving Pascal an easy forehand for the goal. Dupuis had an exceptional evening offensively, showing great awareness in feeding a number of good offensive chances. This in addition to his typically solid defensive play. 

Evgeni Malkin made an immediate impact in the lineup, picking right where he left off with Sullivan and Neal. With Malkin leading the way, the trio were able to move the puck exceptionally well and generate some good opportunities off the rush. Malkin also provided some of what has become his trademark backchecking tenacity in stripping the puck from Islanders forwards and turning the rush the other way. The line also managed some good sustained zone time through good cycling and pressure on the Islanders  in-zone defense.

Richard Park had some memorable moments in the game, including in a good wrist shot that beat Nabakov low to the glove side. Arron Asham created the turnover with some great pressure on the forecheck as the Islanders tried to clear the zone. Park was able to recover the puck and patiently wait out his options in the LW slot before Nabokov, partially screened, dropped to his pads and provided an opening for Park's shot. The combination of Park and Asham hounded the Isles for much of the night.

The Pens Power Play didn't see much work in this one, and neither did the Pens PK. The PP had a double-minor to work with late in the game which could have easily sealed the Islanders fate, but failed to manage much more than passing around the perimeter. I am not a fan of the umbrella PP formation that the coaching staff is enamored with, mostly because it doesn't provide for much pressure down low. Instead, the Pens got plenty of time and space to pass between the high point and the two half-boards as the Islanders collapsed the box down low. The high shooting position and half-boards never really had much of a clear lane to shoot as a result and, with less pressure around the net, little chance to contend for any rebounds. The PK stayed spotless against an Isles PP that really couldn't get anything going. The high pressure the PK applied was too much and the Isles couldn't muster a shot.

Ultimately, though, the game came down to Fleury. The Pens got just enough out of their offense to put them ahead by two, but defensively the Pens gave the Islanders way too many chances. The Pens have yet to really dominate an opponent defensively, and the Islanders presented a perfect opportunity to do just that. Instead, the Pens again relied heavily on strong goaltending to keep the game just out of reach. 

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