Published on January 30th, 2013 | by James Conley0
Islanders 4, Penguins 1: When Mistakes Become Trends Become Permanent
The Penguins are masters of illusion.
They are at once trying too hard and not even trying at all. Stanley Cup favorites and a .500 team placed tenth in its conference. The most skilled team in the NHL and one that has scored two goals in as many games.
Pittsburgh was outplayed once again by a harder-working if less-skilled team in the Islanders on Tuesday in a loss that drops them to 3-3-0 and fourth in the Atlantic Division. The Pens have scored just six goals in their last four games and have been outworked repeatedly in their current three-losses-in-four-games stretch.
The essential question now is whether the problems on display are still the result of having no training camp to speak of, or whether the mistakes of late in the 2011-12 season have gone from aberrations to trends.
Other than a few fringe guys who are fighting for permanent spots on Dan Bylsma’s lone 12-man line, no one on the roster seems to be taking the game to the opposition. The Penguins are getting outworked and the game plan outsmarted. It may not be time to panic, but the team’s current problems aren’t new, and they don’t seem to be going away.
The list of what didn’t work is a piece best left for The New Yorker. Instead, a focus on the few things that did work well, beginning with Simon Despres. Despres was called on to replace Matt Niskanen’s minutes on the top defensive pairing. Prior to Tuesday’s game, no one was sure if the 21-year-old defenseman could handle an increased role after averaging less than 10 minutes TOI through his first three games.
Despres answered the bell. He earned 19:12 TOI against the Islanders including stints on the second special teams units and was the Penguins most effective defenseman on the night. His physical play was by far the best of anyone on the listless Pens’ roster. He made good, simple plays to sustain zone time when on offense, closed off his man and remained in fairly good position on defense and found ways to get his shots at least as far as the net, even if they weren’t going to pick a corner. If he continues that kind of play, he’s a shoe-in as the Pens’ fifth defenseman.
Dustin Jeffrey used his first ice time of the season to make an impact. After experimenting with Tyler Kennedy and Eric Tangradi on the Malkin-Neal unit, it would be enough to have a third forward who could simply keep himself out of the way, short of actually having a positive impact on the line. Jeffrey made a few smart, handsy plays to keep cycles and rushes alive and the unit did at least create scoring chances, if not any scoring. His defense, too, was very good, and something that the traditionally beatable Malkin-Neal combination direly needs.
At the very least, Jeffrey earned another start Thursday against the Rangers.
As for the rest of the team, effort and adjustment are going to be the name of the game. The Penguins have strategic and tactical problems that other clubs have identified and exploited. It’s on the team (and its stars) to address the tactical problems, starting with the belief that other teams are entitled to wins, too. Strategically, Bylsma has to address the stretch pass and power play, both of which have been figured out and exploited by three teams perceived to be lesser than the Penguins.
The Rangers have lost Ryan Callahan to injury but are still on the upswing after dropping their first match with the Penguins. Pittsburgh has scored as many goals in its last four games as in the contest previous against New York.
Offense can come from ugly plays. The Penguins need to embrace the ugly.
Image clydeorama @ flickr
Audio Jason Seidling & Pittsburgh Penguins