"Goaltending Gongshow" would be an appropriate headline for what went down at the Nassau Coliseum last night as the Islanders were able to tie the series. The goaltending on both sides has been bad, but last night's game may have been the ultimate display of goaltending ineptitude where Evgeni Nabokov was bad and Marc-Andre Fleury was ten times worse. The "quality start" metric is what is usually used to measure goaltender performance where all a goalie has to do is post a .912 save percentage in a game to give his team a chance to win. Neither goalie was able to do this last night with Nabokov allowing four goals on 31 shots and Fleury letting in an astounding six goals on 24 shots. "Shot quality" is always the common argument against this stat but anyone who watched the game last night shouldn't even bring this up because three of the goals Fleury let in were disgusting and he had to face only 11 Islander scoring chances as a whole.
The team in front of Fleury actually looked slightly better than they did in the last two games as they were able to limit the Islanders scoring chances and control the better part of this game. That would have been good enough for a win, but all stats kind of go out the window when 25% of the shots you give up end up in the back of your net. Three of the goals Fleury let in weren't even registered as scoring chances (Strait, Okposo & the second Streit goal), so that alone should tell you what the main problem was for the Penguins.
Fortunately for the Penguins, this is only a tied series and they are starting to look better than they did in the last two games, albeit that isn't saying much. They also have another goaltender who they can turn to in Tomas Vokoun and it wouldn't shock me if we see him in net on Thursday. Pittsburgh is at the point where they need to start the goalie who gives them the best chance to win and I'm not sure if that goalie is Fleury right now. I can't help but feel that the only reason he wasn't pulled from last night's game is because Nabokov was almost just as bad and kept the Penguins in the game.
New York Islanders vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
The Pens were better last night and did a better job defensively of limiting how much offense the Islanders could create at even strength. The Isles still had more zone time and the better of the territorial play, but that doesn't always result in chances. Some of it was the Islanders own doing since they kept trying to make passing plays in the slot, an area that Pittsburgh covered well, only for them to be broken up. They would have been much better off just getting it on net and banging away at rebounds because lord knows they were there and Fleury was very suspectable in goal. It's also worth noting that while the Penguins were better, they didn't exactly dominate this game despite keeping the Islanders even strength attack in check. They weren't creating much offense themselves and could only seem to generate chances on the rush after mistakes by the Islanders defense. Their forecheck and territorial play, as a whole, has been very weak. Although, there aren't many teams who can win when their goalie lets in 25% of the shots he faces.
Islanders Individual Scoring Chances
Best EV Forward: Josh Bailey +3
Worst EV Forward: Keith Aucoin -4
Best EV Defenseman: Mark Streit +1
Worst EV Defensemen: Travis Hamonic & Matt Carkner -2
The Islanders second line finally reached a bump in the road, as they ended up getting outchanced for the first time all series and Nielsen had a pretty bad gaffe on Malkin's goal. Fortunately, the Islanders first line did enough to carry their offense through this game by generating two goals and winning the scoring chance battle whenever they were on the ice. Tavares had a nice goal in the third period to give the Islanders the lead but let's not overwork Brad Boyes forcing a turnover by Evgeni Malkin to set up the entire sequence. This line had kind of a rough outing in Game three but they rebounded well last night. Casey Cizikas also had a good game in limited ice-time and I've been very impressed with what he has done this series.
The Islanders defense took a huge blow last night by losing Andrew MacDonald sometime in the second period and you can see here that Hamonic struggled without him. They also barely used Matt Carkner so Jack Capuano essentially had to roll four defensemen for the entire third period. The result? Hamonic and Brian Strait getting lit up defensively at even strength. Even if MacDonald is healthy, I think it would serve the Islanders well to put Thomas Hickey back in the lineup over Carkner. I understand the value of "team toughness" but that doesn't matter as much when you are getting crushed defensively even while not playing a lot of minutes.
Penguins Individual Scoring Chances
Best EV Forwards: James Neal & Jarome Iginla +3
Worst EV Forward: Craig Adams -4
Best EV Defenseman: Matt Niskanen +4
Worst EV Defenseman: Brooks Oprik -4
Pittsburgh's second line has really missed James Neal as they turned in a strong offensive performance after his return and it's a good thing they showed up because Crosby's line struggled to do a lot at even strength. This is something that doesn't happen very often. Evgeni Malkin is taking a lot of heat for that turnover which led to Tavares' goal, but he had a solid game outside of that and was responsible for a good chunk of Pittsburgh's offense. Matt Cooke & Brendn Morrow also made some decent contributions at even strength and Jussi Jokinen also played well on the fourth line.
The fact that Jokinen is centering the fourth line is confusing to me. Obviously he isn't going to center the top two lines with Crosby & Malkin occupying those spots, but it's not like Jokinen can't play wing. Sticking him with grinders like Adams & Glass just seems to mitigate how effective he can be, which is silly because he has thrived when playing with better linemates in Pittsburgh. Using him on the fourth line just seems like a waste.
Brooks Orpik's return to the lineup wasn't a night to remember. He was crushed at even strength and arguably the worst player Pittsburgh iced that night. Fleury's apologists are usually quick to blame the defense for his struggles and they would be right in the case of Orpik last night since he spent most of the game trapped in his own zone. The only good news for Pittsburgh is that he spent most of his minutes against Nielsen's line instead of Tavares', so the damage wasn't as bad as it could have been.
Head-to-Head at Five-on-Five
The Islanders have been the better team this series and it's odd because Jack Capuano's matchpus have been interesting to say the least. If you take a look at the shift chart from this game, you'll see the one of the key matchups for him was getting Nielsen out against Crosby. That's a reasonable matchup, for sure but this and the head-to-head chart shows him sending out players like Keith Aucoin, Matt Martin and Colin McDonald out against Malkin's line. Ntohing good is going to come from sending out grinders against a dangerous line like that and these players ended up taking a beating when being forced into this matchup. I'm interested to see what changes when they play on the road again.
Outside of these moments, Capuano seemed to alternate Tavares & Nielsen against Crosby & Malkin's line respectively. You can see here that Nielsen had much more success against Crosby than Malkin while Tavares' won the battle against everyone in the Penguins top-six. It's also notable how much the loss of Andrew MacDonald hurts the Islanders as he was doing a great job of containing the Penguins first line.
|1||PIT||5:10||Neal – GOAL||12||91||24||3||47||20||71||12||18||2||7||29||5v5|
|2||NYI||13:32||Tavares – GOAL||91||24||26||2||3||20||27||9||44||58||29||5v4|
|2||PIT||12:43||Malkin – GOAL||51||21||26||3||37||20||71||12||18||2||3||29||5v5|
|2||PIT||8:57||Sutter – GOAL||12||91||24||2||7||20||16||10||24||44||58||29||5v5|
|3||PIT||19:29||Dupuis – GOAL||51||21||26||2||3||20||87||9||14||4||58||29||5v5|
|3||NYI||1:16||Cizikas – GOAL||53||13||40||11||37||20||71||87||12||2||58||29||5v5|