May 2, 2013

Isles Suffer Game 1 Letdown, Pens win 5-0

Since we found out on Sunday night that the Islanders would slide to the 8th spot and be playing the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, lots of speculation ensued - mainly centered on how many games Pittsburgh would win in.

Of course, at the very least we wanted to see the Isles play well, keeping the games close and maybe even stealing one on the road from a Pens team that is still trying to get to full health, which is scary when you realize the depth that they already have in place.

After much anticipation and a quiet start, the Pens broke through quickly on the powerplay when Beau Bennett put an odd angled shot past Evgeni Nabokov three and a half minutes into the game and it snowballed from there for the Islanders.

I felt that in the early going, despite the goal the Islanders were handling things fine but you knew they had to be better once the Pens finished their feeling out process. That didn't happen and the Islanders paid dearly for it. With every chance that Pittsburgh was getting up the middle of the ice, the Islanders freaked out and it created all sorts of problems for the better parts of two periods.

I know a lot of people are already on a Nabokov bashing kick, which quite frankly is unwarranted after what happened here. This is playoff hockey - you cannot leave your goalie out to dry, which the Islanders did so many times this season that you could almost see this coming.

I said on the show this past weekend and I will reiterate: I don't see any benefit to Brian Strait playing in games right now. He was coming off a major ankle injury, and has not looked strong since returning. His speed is shot right now and this was evident on a few Penguins rushes in Game 1. I like him and he's a solid defenseman, but the rust from the injury has not been shaken off yet. This should be Radek Martinek's spot, and that’s a move I'd like to see for Game 2.

We can talk all we want about how the Isles had been playing in the "playoffs" for a month but that is always misleading. On Wednesday night they got to witness the difference and experienced a Pens team that was prepared to play the several notches above regular season play that is required by all playoff teams.

And this doesn't only apply to the Isles. Just look at what happened to the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have finally ended their playoff drought and get to match-up with the Boston Bruins. They were slaughtered in their own way, struggling to even get shots off against a Bruins defensive structure that has enough experience to know how to tighten up come Spring. Time and space is not given as it would be in the regular season.

The Islanders effort was not there for most of the night, but did improve later on in the game when the Penguins were perhaps taking their foot off the gas a little bit.

However, despite this there were some silver linings.

John Tavares looked like he was made for playoff hockey, despite the fact the Penguins bothered him all night. He had some nice rushes but couldn't get the chances off at the last moments in some cases but you could see he knew where to be, what to do, and the intensity that's required. This is more than we can say about several of his counterparts.

Kevin Poulin came into a difficult situation and did an admirable job replacing Nabokov, making some nice saves and only giving up one goal of his own. He wasn't tested as much as Nabokov, but it was nice to see him shake off some jitters after his unexpected first playoff appearance.

The Penguins got their scoring from some unlikely sources, Pascal Dupuis aside. I felt the Isles did a good enough job neutralizing Evgeni Malkin (despite his two points, which came during powerplay time). James Neal suffered a concussion (no details as to the extent) and Sidney Crosby is an unknown at this point as far as his availability (we'll assume game-by-game).

Given that, it's a shame the Islanders really couldn't compete in their first playoff game in six years. But if these players are still in limbo by Game 2, then it becomes a must win. The Penguins would still have Malkin, Jarome Iginla and Brendan Morrow, but the job is slightly easier with Neal's potential absence.

Personally, I don't see the Isles getting blown out in any more games this series. I'd expect them to be a bit closer now that they've seen what a playoff game is REALLY like.

Will Capuano make the necessary changes to reverse the Isles fortunes? They've taken steps away from what's made them successful and need to snap out of it, bear down and realize what more they need to do. As a matter of fact, Tavares and Nabokov said it the best themselves when asked about it during the post game. They need to recognize the fact that they need to battle even harder, and that winning in the playoffs is "supposed to hurt."

That message needs to be sent throughout the organization before 7 PM on Friday.

- Chris

No comments: