By Brian Metzer
Better late than never, the Penguins played their second game on home ice Tuesday evening and ended up with another loss. Some folks have wondered what the problem is at the CONSOL Energy Center, but they have had the same problems at home and on the road.
The Islanders ran away with two-points in much the same way that Michael Grabner ran away with each puck that he picked off at the opposing blue line in the Isles 4-0 victory. The Penguins have openly admitted on more than one occasion that they are not emotionally invested in these opponents and it is showing in their on-ice performance.
They’re most effective games of the season game against teams that they either have perceived rivalries with or have met in recent playoffs series. Sadly, match-ups against the likes of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets and the Islanders aren’t yet enough to get their blood pumping and until they are we are going to see far too many losses like last night.
The Islanders got big performances from Evgeni Nabokov, John Tavares, and Grabner, as they skated to an easy 4-0 victory. The loss, which dropped the Penguins to 3-3, left the home team scratching its collective head.
Here are a collection of key stats, thoughts and observations in case you missed it.
- S L O W – the Penguins were outskated throughout the evening. Sure they had a handful of offensive outbursts, but they looked lazy and lethargic throughout. This lack of effort has been noticeable in each game against opponents who don’t get their juices flowing. Is this a product of players reading into their own press clippings? A product of the fact that a number of them have had early successes in their careers? Who knows, but they best get it worked out quick or they are going to continue to get smoked by opponents who are playing at another level.
- John Tavares is quickly becoming a superstar and it was obvious again last night. The way he worked on the Islanders’ second period power play, setting up in the right circle, working the puck effectively with Matt Moulson and launching one timers that would beat most mere mortals was just a tint taste. He isn’t far off from joining the Crosbys, Malkins, and Stamkoses at the top of league.
- It was disappointing to see Brian Strait playing such an effective game with the Islanders. He should be doing that for the Penguins, who are in dire need of a guy who can eat some minutes and give Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin a breather from time-to-time. He is probably better than Ben Lovejoy, Deryk Engelland and Simon Despres at this point, at least defensively. He is now skating a regular shift next to Mark Streit on what is probably the Islanders top pairing. Not bad for a waiver claim.
- The Penguins power-play is crying out for an adjustment. James Neal doesn’t look comfortable on the point and the chatter that I have heard is that he isn’t. You are seeing pucks skip over his stick and teams are getting shorthanded opportunities on a nightly basis. I am all for throwing all the stars out there, but that “All-Star” unit of 87,71, 18, 14, and 56 just isn’t working right now. It is understood that you can’t use one of the big guys, but shuffle the rest of the unit from time-to-time. The second unit has shown an ability to more effectively set up in the zone and generate some pressure. Pascal Dupuis, Paul Martin and Tyler Kennedy could easily mix in with Malkin/Crosby at the start of at least one power play each game.
- Malkin had one of his most effective games of the season in the faceoff circle, winning 62-percent of his draws. Brandon Sutter, who has been up and down in the dot, won 55-percent of his.
- The Penguins were credited with 11 giveaways in the game.
- Credit to Seth Rorabaugh (emptynetters) for pointing out that the Penguins have gone 0-3 against the Islanders since unveiling the Mario Lemieux Statue that features 66-percent Islanders. For as great as the moment is that they immortalized, featuring the entire bodies of Rich Pilon and Jeff Norton still takes a bit away from Le Magnifique.
- Simon Despres played his finest game of the season. Maybe getting some trade rumors circulating did a bit of good for him. He played 19:12 effective minutes, launched three shots on goal and came close to scoring a second period goal. The youngster also threw his body around a bit in registering four hits.
It is worth noting that the crowd at the CONSOL Energy Center was a lot more lively than the one that was there for the opener, though that proved to work against the Penguins as the boo birds were out en mass.
Overall, it was the kind of game that a team is glad to forget. It will be interesting to see what version of this team shows up tomorrow night at Madison Square Garden.
To read more of my thoughts on the Penguins split personality, check out a recent article that I penned for the Beaver County Times by clicking HERE.