Too many turnovers give speedy, pesky Islanders too many chances to take sting out of Penguins attack and get their own transition game going
May 7, 2013 4:00 PM
The Islanders' Kyle Okposo celebrates his goal against the Penguins with Frans Nielsen in the third period of Sunday's Game 3.
James Neal yesterday during the skate at the Nassau Coliseum.
Brooks Orpik worked out yesterday with the team at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y.
By Dave Molinari Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- The Penguins have no problem giving the New York Islanders credit.
They just would like to stop giving them so many pucks.
The Penguins own a 2-1 lead in their opening-round playoff series against the Islanders, which continues tonight at 7:08 at Nassau Coliseum, and that clearly is the most important statistic for either team, because it shows how the series has gone to this point.
The number that shows where it might be headed, however, is 6-4, which is New York's advantage in 5-on-5 goals in Games 2 and 3.
"I think that we've controlled the play, 5-on-5, the past two games," Islanders right winger Kyle Okposo said Monday. "Five-on-five, we've had a lot of chances, and we've buried some, but there's still room to bury [more of] those chances."
If the Islanders continue to outscore the Penguins at even-strength, it's easy to imagine the series lasting longer -- and maybe even having a different survivor -- than most people anticipated when it began.
The Penguins saw enough of the Islanders during the regular season to appreciate not only the skills of their high-end players, but the team's overall speed and quickness, qualities critical to the kind of lethal transition game New York runs.
The antidote to the Islanders' up-tempo, aggressive style is to control the puck and keep it at the far end of the ice as much as possible, but the Penguins gave it away -- or failed to move it through the neutral zone -- with alarming regularity the past two games.
"They live off turnovers," Penguins center Brandon Sutter said. "And we've definitely given them our fair share."
If the Islanders' approach looks familiar, it should, because the philosophy behind it seems pretty similar to that of Penguins coach Dan Bylsma and his staff. The emphasis is on launching a quick counter-attack when possible and on getting the puck deep in the attacking zone -- and keeping it there as long as possible -- when it isn't.
If New York can't make a play in the neutral zone that makes it possible to rush the puck into the Penguins' defensive zone, the Islanders look to throw it behind the Penguins' defensemen and try to chase it down.
Penguins at New York Islanders, 7:08 p.m. today, Nassau Coliseum.
Root, WXDX-FM (105.9).
Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Evgeni Nabokov for Islanders.
Are 8-5 in past 13 away playoff games. ... D Paul Martin has best plus-minus rating on either team, plus-4. ... Power play has scored on six of 13 chances in the series.
Have lost seven consecutive home playoff games, matching the league record. ... C Frans Nielsen has team-high 12 shots in series, but does not have goal. ... Have been credited with 26 takeaways, tying for second-most in playoffs.
Penguins have won six consecutive overtime playoff games on road, tying third-longest such streak in NHL history.
If they get possession, they like to cycle the puck to wear down the defenders and have someone work free in a seam in the coverage, potentially leading to a quality scoring chance.
Even when New York doesn't generate an opportunity to score, it can force the Penguins to invest a lot of time and energy to prevent a goal, which reduces their chances of scoring one.
"They're a really good hockey team, a dangerous hockey team, but there's not a whole lot of players who like to play in their own end," Islanders left winger Matt Martin said. "Actually, I don't think anyone likes to play in their own end.
"When you're chipping pucks deep and being physical, really hemming them in their own zone ... when you have [Sidney] Crosby and [Evgeni] Malkin on the ice and they're spending half their shift in their own end, I think that's frustrating for them and, obviously, really limits their [offensive] opportunities.
"Players like that are very dangerous when you turn pucks over in the neutral zone and they're going back the other way, with speed. When we're making them come 200 feet from their own zone and playing tight defensively on them, it makes the game a lot harder on them, a lot harder for them to produce."
Another similarity between the Penguins and Islanders is that both stress executing their systems efficiently, not trying to detect, and then exploit, any vulnerabilities their opponent might have.
"We just focus on ourselves," New York right winger Colin McDonald said. "We don't worry about what they do. We try to play a hard, physical game, cycle pucks and work the puck down low. That's when we're at our best, when we do that.
"That's our only focus. We're not trying to look at what weaknesses they may have and try to exploit those. We're just trying to play our game."
The Penguins recognize the Islanders' game, and they respect it. Which is why they realize that they can't expect to get away with routinely giving New York possession.
"We can take care of the puck much better," defenseman Douglas Murray said. "They're a great transition team, and we turn the puck over too much. "I think a lot of it comes down to execution on our part, where we have triggered their offense way too much so far.
"You have to give them some credit. They've been a lot more aggressive the past two games and made it harder for us. But we still have to execute."