Anybody who thought the Islanders couldn't top the heartbreak of Game Three was proven wrong last night after they were eliminated from the playoffs last night by the Pittsburgh Penguins on the heels of an overtime goal by Brooks Orpik. The whole game was pretty similar to how Game Three went where the Islanders vastly outplayed the Penguins in just about every area but goaltending and ended up taking the loss because of that. The only difference with this game was that the Penguins didn't need the help of their power play to catapult them in front. Instead, they were able to take advantage of a few costly mistakes by the Islander defense and got a couple of generous bounces on two of their goals.
At the end of the day, the blame for this loss is probably going to be put on the shoulders of goaltender Evgeni Nabokov and he can be noted as the scapegoat this series, there were a few other factors that contributed to the Islanders demise. The biggest one being at the other end of the crease in Tomas Vokoun. The Pittsburgh netminder may have let three goals get by him, but he helped carry his team out of numerous rough spots last night and his finest moment came in the second period where he stopped six Islander power play scoring chances. The Penguins gave Vokoun four goals in support but I think this series would have been heading for seven games without him because the Islanders dominated Pittsburgh for a good portion of last night's game and outchanced them 25-12 .
Vokoun's play kept Pittsburgh in the game and made each mistake that much more costly for the Islanders, because whenever you let a team like the Pens hang around, there is a good chance that they'll find the back of the net. That's just the way they've worked this series and that, along with Nabokov's shoddy goaltending, ended up winning them the game and the series. I feel that the Islanders deserved better because they outplayed Pittsburgh in four out of six games but they sort of played with fire with the penalties in Game Three and couldn't finish last night and these types of things can doom you in playoff games. It's unfortunately, but that's the playoffs work sometimes.
The Islanders shouldn't hang their heads too low because they mostly played some very entertaining hockey and really gave the Penguins a run for their money in a series that many expected to be a laugher after Game One. I think they would have had a better shot if Nabokov played anything close to the level of an NHL goalie, even if the Penguins finishing ability made him look a little worse than he usually is, because they really were the better team and gave it all they had last night.
New York Islanders vs. Pittsburgh Penguins Game Six
I guess this game is proof that there is no justice in the world of hockey metrics. The Penguins were getting blown away in the scoring chance department through most of the game, produced little offense in the third and scored the game-tying goal on a shot that wasn't even a scoring chance. Their game-winner in OT was also from too far away of a distance to be considered a scoring chance, so that was probably the icing on the cake for Islanders fans. Things were actually pretty level through two periods at even strength, but the Islanders jumped ahead thanks to three power plays that they took full advantage of but couldn't score and that allowed the Penguins to stay in the game despite their poor showing in the third period. The Pens have played well at times this series but last night was not one of those games and they were very fortunate to advance in six.
Islanders Individual Scoring Chances
Best EV Forward: Michael Grabner +5
Worst EV Forward: Brock Nelson -1
Best EV Defenseman: Lubomir Visnovsky +9
Worst EV Defensemen: Brian Strait & Travis Hamonic -2
The Islanders threw everything in their arsenal at the Penguins to try to win this game. They got a great performance out of Tavares and his line with Josh Bailey registering four scoring chances. However, who really stood out was the Islanders third line of Colin McDonald, Michael Grabner & Keith Aucoin carried over their strong play from Game Five to tonight. Grabner's speed makes this unit more than just a standard checking line because it's difficult for a lot of teams to match that along with his underrated playmaking skills. Even the Penguins top players were having trouble with this line because of Grabner's play. A fine example of this is on the Islanders second goal where he beat Paul Martin in a race to the puck and it allowed the Islanders to set up a tic-tac-toe play in front of the net to take the lead. Grabner also scored his first goal of the series after Keith Aucoin knocked down a poor clearing attempt by Kris Letang. This line didn't play a ton but they really did a good job of making the msot of their minutes.
From purely an offensive standout, Lubomir Visnovsky may have been the Islanders best player, he was on the ice for 15 total scoring chances, was a beast on the power play and had six shot attempts, three of which were on goal. The Penguins also failed to record an even strength scoring chance when he was on the ice, which is pretty unbelievable when you consider that he had to drag Matt Carkner along side of him all game. Unfortunately, these two were also on the ice for Paul Martin's game-tying goal in the third period and I can't really fault either of them for it because the shot went off Frans Nielsen's stick. Carkner was kind of losing a battle by chasing Evgeni Malkin behind the net, though.
That being said, the real nightmare pairing for the Isles was Strait/Hamonic and they were the ones tasked with playing against Sidney Crosby's line for most of the game. I had a feeling that Hamonic would struggle without Andrew MacDonald and showed in a bad way last night as Strait is clearly not at the same level as MacDonald. This was evident on the Penguins first goal when Sidney Crosby was able to zoom by Strait with little effort get to the front of the net and the Penguins made quick work to bang in the rebound. Hamonic also had a slip-up with covering the front of the net on Pascal Dupuis' goal in the second period. Covering up the loss of a defenseman is tough and it's even more difficult when someone who plays the minutes that MacDonald commands.
As good as the Isles played, I'm not sure if they would have survived with this defense corps. Don't get me wrong, they did well as a whole last night by allowing only 19 shots on goal to a very dangerous Penguins team but I would be hard pressed to call Strait or Carkner top-four defensemen and they would be playing those minutes in the next round. They were also prone to some bad errors that resulted in the back of their net, Strait's "defense" on the Iginla goal and Mark Streit's poor clearing attempt on the Orpik game-winner being examples of that. The Orpik goal was bad on Nabokov's part, but soft clears are usually the type of mistakes that will burn you in the post-season.
Penguins Individual Scoring Chances
Best EV Forward: Pascal Dupuis +5
Worst EV Forward: Chris Kunitz -7
Best EV Defenseman: Kris Letang +1
Worst EV Defenseman: Matt Niskanen -8
Even if Crosby came away a negative in scoring chances, I thought his line basically put the entire team on their backs last night. They were responsbile for almost all of their offense and did their best to edge out a win last night. They played a lot of minutes and as a result, gave up a lot of chances in their own end, but this trio were really the only ones who were producing dangerous shots on a consistent basis for Pittsburgh. I think bumping Iginla up to this line has given them a spark as he and Crosby seem to work really well together and they really needed them last night becasue Malkin's line had a very rough game outside of the two goals they produced (which weren't scoring chances mind you). On top of that, the rest of the Pens forward corps created only four scoring chances and of course, one of them ended up being a goal with Joe Vitale finding Pascal Dupuis crashing to the front of the net.
For the most part, Pittsburgh's defense was carved up last night. Letang managed to escape most of the damage & keep Frans Nielsen's line in check, but that bad turnover on the Grabner goal will sit in the mind's of fans for awhile. Paul Maritin & Brooks Orpik also had solid games compared to the rest of the team despite being on the ice for a lot of Islander chances and nobody on the roster was as bad as Douglas Murray & Matt Niskanen. The Islanders speed gave these two fits all series and both were frequently exposed last night for this exact reason.
Murray looked slower than molasses on the Tavares goal and Niskanen had the puck bounce over his stick prior to the Letang turnover. These two are normally serviceable on the third pairing but they become more difficult to mask on the road where Bylsma doesn't get the last change and the Islanders took full advantage of that last night. I'd like to see how this shakes up in future matchups because the Senators are also a good skating team that can also make life rough for this pairing.
Head-to-Head at Five-on-Five
The good work done by Crosby's line is on full display here as they were able to outchance the Islanders top six and their top defense pairing at even strength. They gave up a lot defensively, but they won the matchup they were assigned and helped carry their team to a win. Brandon Sutter also did a nice job against Tavares' line but they made up for it and then some against Malkin's line. Visnovsky/Carkner also did some damage against that line but they were the only top players from Pittsburgh who the Islanders were able to beat out at even strength as many of them were able to take advantage of weaker matchups against the likes of Murray, Morrow, Niskanen & Orpik.
|1||NYI||14:24||Tavares – GOAL||12||91||24||7||11||20||71||14||18||2||3||92||5v5|
|1||PIT||12:21||Iginla – GOAL||12||91||24||3||37||20||87||12||9||7||44||92||5v5|
|1||NYI||0:37||McDonald – GOAL||10||13||40||3||37||20||87||12||9||7||44||92||5v5|
|2||PIT||9:01||Dupuis – GOAL||10||29||53||3||37||20||46||9||24||2||44||92||5v5|
|3||NYI||17:39||Grabner – GOAL||10||13||40||11||37||20||71||14||18||2||58||92||5v5|