Game One: Penguins 5, Islanders 0 — Nightmare in Pittsburgh

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Kevin Schultz

Welcome to the playoffs, now it’s time to play.

For sixty minutes tonight the Penguins dominated the Islanders and shut them down in all areas of the game. There are some easy scape goats that have been brought up — Marty Reasoner, the zebras to name a pair — but the fact is that the Islanders from top to bottom weren’t ready for the top team in the Eastern Conference.

After the game, Coach Capuano said that it wasn’t that the team wasn’t ready but that they didn’t work hard enough. To paraphrase Howie Rose’s on point reaction, how in the world is that possible? How can the team not work hard enough after all they’ve been through?

What will be interesting to see is how the Islanders come out on Friday night; does this game destroy them and fill them with self-doubt or does it serve as motivation and light a fire in them? That will tell us a lot about what this team is made of.

For sixty minutes they had very minimal offensive pressure, very few serious scoring chances and were in a hole almost immediately. Brian Strait took an interference call and the Pens went to work on the power play. It would be an odd, off angle shot from rookie Beau Bennett that beat Evgeni Nabokov high to make it 1-0.

Soon after, Evgeni Nabokov took a deflected shot off the mask and seemed to be shaken up. He would stay in the game and didn’t look particularly bothered by it, but his rebound control was atrocious all night. Not that he was getting much support in front of him. Nabokov sprawled aggressively out of the crease all night attempting to defend, the kind of thing a netminder does when those in front of him aren’t defending.

There would be a number of fire drills in the Islanders own zone throughout the game. They would result in a couple of goals for the Pens, the first of which came from Pascal Dupuis. The Penguins broke in 3-on-3 with the Islanders and after the initial wave was stopped, Jarome Iginla stole the puck right off Matt Martin’s stick in the slot. Nabokov would stop Iginla’s shot but Dupuis would eventually finish.

The Islanders would head into the first intermission down 2-0 and that wouldn’t be so bad, but they compounded their deficit with two bad penalties that came back to bite them.

Less than a minute to go in the first Mark Streit went off for holding and, on the PK early in the second, Marty Reasoner would go off for tripping. Reasoner’s penalty was inexcusable and hap-hazard, barely something that should be coming from a vet. The Penguins would score on the ensuing 5-on-3 just as the first penalty expired to score their third. About thirty seconds later Dupuis added his second of the game off a huge rebound in front. Evgeni Nabokov was taken out soon after, Jack Capuano saying after the game he didn’t want to hang his goalie out to dry.

Kevin Poulin came in to replace Nabokov, with the broadcast going on about how it could be good that Nabokov took the puck to the mask early on, possibly getting Poulin in a mindset that he would have to come in. Odd. I guess whatever small silver lining you can find in a blowout. Poulin wasn’t tested a whole lot as he faced only 11 shots, although he did make a great save late in the third. He would give up an awful angle goal, well worse than the Pens first goal, but as the Pens fifth goal it wasn’t particularly relevant.

Late in the third Marty Reasoner went, apparently, knee-to-knee with Jussi Jokinen. Both players would leave the game; Jokinen with the injury and Reasoner for a major and game misconduct. On replay, it didn’t seem like there was contact at the knees, it seemed like Reasoner caught Jokinen’s skate. We’ll have to wait and see tomorrow if the NHL chooses to take a look at the play.

There’s a lot of blame to go around though. The defense as a whole was no help in front of Nabokov, who didn’t have a great game either. An 0-for-4 power play. The Pens held John Tavares to zero — yes, zero — shots on goal. And then the coaching. By the end of the second there was also a weird divvying up of icetime; Tavares with only 10:52, for instance. And also a knee-jerk reaction putting Matt Martin on Tavares’ wing instead of Matt Moulson. There were a lot of problems and it’s hard to recount them all and it certainly wasn’t one line or person responsible. It was a team-wide power failure.

The great thing about a seven game series is that Game Two on Friday will be a completely new night. The score doesn’t carry over and the Islanders start from a clean slate. But, man, if this wasn’t a knife in the back tonight. After all the positive momentum and good feelings that the team built up over the last month plus, to not even be competitive in your playoff debut is going to be awfully hard to swallow for fans. A competitive two-goal loss is one thing, but to get completely run out of the building by the second minute of the second period is one hell of another.

Game Two is Friday night at 7pm in Pittsburgh.