In reviewing that intense game in Pittsburgh that saw the Penguins defeat the New York Islanders on Saturday night, there were a few lessons that took place that I think should be taken as a learning experience. If the Islanders can adjust and take that humbling experience with them and apply it to the rest of their games, they’ll be better prepared to play Pittsburgh and any team in the future. First lesson: Need to take advantage of the opportunities. Second lesson: Despite the great start, you will not get the home-ice treatment from the refs when you are away because you’re not Pittsburgh, Chicago, Los Angeles etc. Third lesson: Pittsburgh is still a beast of the east and the older brother of sorts to the younger Islanders so you have to play like a champion if you want to win one.
First Lesson: Need to take advantage of the opportunities. The Islanders had plenty of power-play opportunities and even a 5 on 3 to gain momentum against the Pens and were shut out. Even if they scored one goal with the man advantage, this game could have gone to overtime and a point would have been had. Having said that, giving Pittsburgh any kind of opportunity is a bad idea because it does determine the score.
Second Lesson: Despite the great start, you will not get the home-ice treatment from the refs when you are away because you’re not Pittsburgh, Chicago, Los Angeles etc. Just because you’re 4-0 to start the season doesn’t mean you get any kind of special treatment, especially when your opponent has won a Cup with a few of those players to go along with a few Divisional titles and some of the players earning some hardware when the season is completed. Granted, the refs were not balanced, even more of a reason to play a more disciplined game. If you sense that the refs are not going to give equal opportunity or fairness, you better keep your game simpler. Having said that, the Islanders had plenty of them to turn the tide, see first lesson.
Third Lesson: Pittsburgh is still a beast of the east and the older brother of sorts to the younger Islanders, so you have to play like a champion if you want to win one. Has Pittsburgh won a Stanley Cup recently? Only if you considers 6 years to be recent. They have won divisional titles and they know how to get past the first round of the playoffs. When have the Islanders gotten past the first round? My point has been made. After the Penguins went down 1-0, they tightened up their overall game and played strong, desperate, wanting to win hockey and went after the Islanders, like a championship team should. It was like the younger brother getting a cheap shot in and now the older brother gets pissed and chases the younger one who starts running away until he is cornered. That’s called getting intimidated, and that’s what happened.
What the Islanders should have done was take a playbook from the New Jersey Devils of years past and tighten up their overall defensive game after a lead and wait for Pittsburgh to get aggravated instead of allowing Pittsburgh to basically set up camp in the Islanders defensive zone for the rest of the game. Once Pittsburgh established that one goal lead, you would have noticed all their players basically hovering on/near the blue line and basically shut out the Islanders of any chance to get anything going. The discipline was not there at all for the Islanders as they gave Pittsburgh too many chances with the man advantage and if it wasn’t for Halak, that score would have been worse.
One final point, the veteran Steve Downie manipulated the Islanders and Travis Hamonic fell for it. After the conclusion of the second period, Downie was pointing fingers at the Islanders players and Travis Hamonic was one of them. Later on in the third, Downie put on a penalized hit on Frans Nielson and Hamonic came over and started putting a beat down on Downie, but the end result was the Islanders losing a top 4 defenseman (for a possible extended time) and Pittsburgh lost a forward who has zero points this season and has scored four goals in the last two seasons. Who really won that game? Why wasn’t Matt Martin sent out at the beginning of the period to shut Downie up? If someone messes with teammates who are like your brothers in arms, a message should have been sent at the start of the period. Instead Pittsburgh, wins that intimidation game. I call that being a savvy veteran team.
In the end, Pittsburgh exposed the Islanders for who they are, a young talented team that needs to grow up and mature so that they learn how to win the bigger games. The Islanders need to learn how to play with a lead, tighten up their overall defensive game without giving opponents power play opportunities or odd man rushes and not give up a goal, as many fans have seen this year in the third period. They need to show that they will not be intimidated and it shouldn’t have to just come from their captain. It’s only 5 games in and despite the 4-1 record, there is still much work to be done, but the Islanders need to keep their confidence up and not be the younger brother who got intimidated by the older brother. With their next opponent being Toronto, a team who hasn’t made the playoffs in an 82 game schedule in over a decade and under more fan pressure than anybody, the Islanders need to play like the savvy veterans they can be and watch Toronto kick and scream like the youngest brother.