Tim Benz: No Penguins panic yet, but reasons to grouse

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May 23—I suppose if you predict a series to go seven games, the team you predict to win is going to have to lose three times.

I said the Pittsburgh Penguins would beat the New York Islanders in seven games in their opening-round playoff series. So, at 2-2 after four games, I'm not pressing the panic button just yet. But there are plenty of reasons to be upset about how the Islanders managed to even the series with a 4-1 victory in Game 4 on Saturday afternoon.

How did the Penguins manage to lose that one in Long Island? Oh, let us count the ways.

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Penalties: How many they took (six) wasn't good. How few they drew (two) didn't help, either.

But the bigger issue was when they committed them, and who wound up in the box.

Three for Evgeni Malkin. One for Kris Letang. When those guys are off the ice, the talent disparity between the Islanders and Penguins shrinks substantially.

And when Jason Zucker got a tripping penalty in the third period (when an Islanders player essentially just stepped on his stick), it truncated the only true power play the Penguins were given after just 30 seconds.

When Letang got another penalty less than a minute later, the Islanders wound up getting power-play goals from Oliver Wahlstrom (4-on-3) and Jordan Eberle in the span of 24 seconds.

"I took three penalties. But I'm not surprised," Malkin said. "These guys give me penalties every game. I'm not surprised. But that's OK. I understand. I will be more disciplined next game.

"They play physical. But we need to play smart."

Were the officials to blame on some of the calls they made against the Penguins and failed to whistle against the Islanders? Yes. I'd say so.

But how the penalty minutes stacked up, in the end, was too much to overcome, and the Penguins deserved to be on the negative end of that tally.

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Try the other net: Of the four goals Tristan Jarry allowed, one went off of teammate Cody Ceci and another was pushed in by fellow Penguin Teddy Blueger.

Meanwhile, the Penguins didn't score until a rather meaningless goal from Zach Aston-Reese in garbage time of the third period.

"They aren't going to give you a ton (of chances)," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "So when you get an opportunity you have to capitalize. You have to execute. We had a few good looks in the second (period) before they scored (to make it 1-0). We just have to execute. That's what it comes down to."

For a team that finally looked like it had remembered how to score again in the playoffs during Game 3's 5-4 victory, it immediately regressed to coming up dry in Game 4.

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Faceoffs: The Islanders won 33 of 50 faceoffs (66%). They have won the faceoff battle each of the last three games.

Winning in the circle has been a particular problem for Crosby. He is 19-39 in the last three games on draws, just 32.7%.

New York's Casey Cizikas has been especially good for the Islanders. He's 43-18 over the four games (70.4%).

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Goaltending: Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry gave up four goals against New York for the third time in the series.

As mentioned, two of those goals went in off of his teammates. And Islanders forward Anthony Beauvillier bumped into him on the fourth goal after he was shoved by Kris Letang.

Unlike the Game 1 loss, though, other issues from Game 4 seem to be more pressing than Jarry's goaltending.

Meanwhile, the Islanders are now 2-0 in the series when Ilya Sorokin is the starting goaltender. He stopped 29 of 30 shots Saturday. I've been saying since he was benched at the start of Game 2 for Semyon Varlamov that Barry Trotz had made a mistake.

Putting Sorokin back between the pipes for Game 4 was the right decision. And my bet is he'll stay there the rest of the series.

Although coach Mike Sullivan said the Penguins failed to test Sorokin enough.

"We need to be better with our execution through the neutral zone," Sullivan said. "We need more offensive zone time. We've got to get pucks through. When we had opportunities to get pucks at the net and put them in play, we didn't put as many (shots on goal) as we possibly could have."

With the way Sorokin has played so far, that's a message the Penguins should heed.

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at tbenz@triblive.com or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.