Penguins take 3-2 series lead as lineup and goaltending changes pay dividends

Screen shot 2013-02-16 at 10.19.52 PMThere probably isn’t much you can learn from a game like the Isles 4-0 loss to the Penguins tonight other than “don’t do that again”.

And they really can’t now.

They will need to win back to back games Saturday and Sunday in order to advance to the second round and they have a Fleury-esque goaltending problem themselves.  The bigger part of that problem is they don’t have a Tomas Vokoun waiting in the wings.

After a bit of a tentative start by both teams, the Penguins goaltending adjustment paid off pretty well.  Perhaps fueled by the lineup changes of both teams, play was a little sloppy through the first few minutes with both teams conceding little through the neutral zone.  There were turnovers at the blue line and players being rubbed into the boards because they didn’t carry in with enough speed.

Those lineup changes; for the Pens, Mark Eaton, Jussi Jokinen, Tanner Glass and Marc-Andre Fleury out, Simon Despres, Joe Vitale, Tyler Kennedy and Tomas Vokoun in.  For the Islanders, Matt Carkner, Andrew MacDonald and David Ullstrom out, Thomas Hickey, Radek Martinek and the flabuse, Jesse Joensuu in.

Things were pretty chippy early with hits coming a second or so late.  Brian Strait was flagged for an interference on one hit and immediately after, was boarded and a big scrum ensued.  The Isles penalty kill looked arguably better than in any game thus far in the series and kept the Pens mostly to the outside.

The Isles got a power play back when James Neal took a roughing on Keith Aucoin.  The PP looked good and moved the puck around well, but Tomas Vokoun is not Marc-Andre Fleury, and he denied Visnovsky in close and Kyle Okposo on a backhand to his five-hole after Okposo split a couple of Penguin defenders.

Shortly after that, Nabokov made a stop on Kris Letang, but kicked the rebound to Neal, who made a touch pass to Evgeni Malkin who launched a wrist shot that Nabby got with the pad.  The Isles then strapped in and began to take the momentum.

Colin McDonald had a good period and was stopped on wrister off a Pittsburgh turnover in the circles.  Vokoun was the story though on just about everything the Isles tried.

The Isles ended up with a 14-7 shots edge, but that would change in the second…

Early on, James Neal won a puck battle behind the Isles net and Chris Kunitz gathered it and walked in front for a shot that Nabokov stopped.  Chances were exhanged between the teams early, and Vokoun again ate up a wrist shot by Colin McDonald (who was arguably the Isles best player through two) after he made an outstanding backcheck to grab the puck at the blue line on his off wing, burned a Pittsburgh defender and broke in with a clear shot.

Then, at 7:25, the flood gates opened.  Someone left Tyler Kennedy all alone (it was Streit and Martinek) and Letang hit him with about a 200 foot pass.  He cruised in alone and put a wrist shot past Nabokov.  Then, 1:22 later, a softie happened as Douglas Murray lofted a soft wrist shot that hit Nabby’s glove and floated over him and landed in the net.  Inexlicable, and the momentum has shifted completely except for a couple of John Tavares chances, but Vokoun.

He got a pad on a wide open Tavares slapper and later, he fought off a wrister that Tavares generated himself by turning Paul Martin inside out.

The final dagger of the period was stabbed in by Sidney Crosby. On a poorly played 3 on 3, Crosby cut between Lubomir Visnovsky and Thomas Hickey (mostly Hickey) and fired a laser up high to give the Pens a 3-0 lead at the 14:00 mark and from there, the mission seemed to be to punish the Isles physically and wear them down for game 6.

The shots in the period were 18-11 Penguins.

In the third, the Pens really dug in and shut the Isles down.  Mostly, the game lacked any real flow and was broken up with a lot of penalties for chippy play.

Five minutes in, Matt Martin was whistled for a roughing (on Paul Martin) after Paul got him with a pretty solid hit.  The two became tangled up and exchanged shoves, but it didn’t appear a penalty was warranted. The Pens scored just 6 seconds into the kill on what looked like a set play.  The Pens on the ice huddled up briefly before the faceoff, and Crosby got the puck to Letang for a slap shot from Nabokov’s right.

Nabokov was then lifted in favor of Kevin Poulin who saved the only four shots he saw in the period, but sustained some bumping and punishment.

The rest of the period was a penalty-fest with the Isles getting 14 of the 22 minutes called.

Possibly the worst thing to happen in the third was the loss of Frans Nielsen to what was described as a “lower body injury” in Coach Jack Capuano’s post game presser.  He did not get specific or mention any type of time table for a return or how long he would be out.  Hopefully he’s not.  The loss of Andrew MacDonald was pretty apparent tonight.

NOTICINGS:

  • The Isles never really established any net-front presence to speak of.  That was probably by the Pens design considering Vokoun hadn’t played in a while, but that is something that needed to be done.  You can’t give a goaltender that hasn’t played in a while a free ride.
  • The Isles seemed to be knocked off the puck more often tonight and lost possession battles.  Again, maybe that was the additions to the Pens lineup and the removal of the atrocious Mark Eaton, but they need to be better.
  • Evgeni Nabokov has a .847 sv% in the series.  It is a small sample, but it is a bad sample.  Consider this, if he was at .900, that saves the Isles about 6 goals in this series. Something of note though, 7 of his 20 goals against have been on the PK, so the Isles as a whole have to get better there.
  • Okposo/Nielsen/Moulson had two shots between them. Josh Bailey had zero on Tavares’s line.  Does Capuano get the band back together?
  • The defensive time on ice was very even among all six defensemen with only two and a half minutes difference between high man, Travis Hamonic, and low man, Thomas Hickey.  Not sure if this lineup will stay, for as much as I’m not a Carkner proponent, there did seem to be a lot of goaltender contact tonight.  Joensuu had your team low TOI with 8:26.