Tim Benz: Penguins too dismissive of 3rd-period struggles in Game 1 loss to Islanders

May 18—Tristan Jarry's goaltending issues and Evgeni Malkin's health weren't the only concerns coming out of the Penguins' Game 1 loss to the New York Islanders Sunday afternoon.

So was the way the whole team finished that game.

Despite leading 2-1 after the second intermission, the Penguins found themselves scrambling to come back and tie the game at 3-3 in the third period. And that was just to force overtime, before eventually losing on a Kyle Palmieri goal at 16:30 of the extra frame.

Well, at least that should be a concern. Somehow it wasn't based on how most of the Penguins spoke about the last 20 minutes of regulation.

"I don't think a lot changed," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said of Sunday's third period. "You expect a team to push when they're down a goal. I thought that we had some chances to build on our lead when it was 2-1 and we didn't. And they were able to hang around."

The line score and the stat book tell a different story, though. Not only did the Islanders score those two pivotal goals, but they outshot the Penguins 13-6 after being outshot 23-17 the first two periods. In terms of shot attempts, the Pens had a 36-27 lead through 40 minutes. New York had a 17-9 edge in the third.

According to Natural Stat Trick, the Islanders had six scoring chances over the final 20 minutes, after getting only nine over the first 40. The Penguins only totaled four scoring chances in the last frame after gobbling up 22 before the final intermission in regulation. None were in the so-called "high danger" zones compared to nine such opportunities over the first 40 minutes.

An extreme departure for a team that was 25-1-1 when leading after two periods during the regular season.

"Momentum switches all the time like that," forward Freddy Gaudreau said. "I think we were trying to keep it simple. Maybe we didn't do enough. That's just playoff (hockey) and we've got to keep our mind right for the next one."

If "keeping it simple" means lying back in hopes of insulating and protecting Jarry, either they failed to do so or they need to try a different strategy. Because given his issues Sunday afternoon, the Penguins need to do a better job expanding the lead so as not to rely on Jarry shutting the door while up only one goal.

But like his players, head coach Mike Sullivan didn't seem that concerned about how the Penguins played after the second intermission Sunday.

"There were moments in the third period when they had some momentum. And we had some pushback as well," Sullivan said, pointing to Kasperi Kapanen's goal to tie the game at 3-3 as an example of a late Penguins counterpunch. "A lot of teams would've been extremely deflated. I thought it was a great response by our guys. That's just the nature of playoff hockey."

That may be. Although at least one Penguins player acknowledged what he thought was a tangible shift in play over the last 20 minutes of regulation.

"In the third, we were a little bit on our heels. They caught us in transition a couple times just from pucks we couldn't get in and we got stuck on the ice," defenseman Cody Ceci said. "They needed a goal in the third, and they came pretty hard. We knew they were gonna push, and that's what they did. They pressured us hard and made it hard for us to make plays."

Ceci's voice may not be the biggest or most recognizable on the Penguins team. But in this case, I think he's the most accurate. And I hope the Penguins are listening. Because he's driving home the right message.

If the rest of the Penguins don't listen, the Islanders may be driving to Pittsburgh International Airport with a 2-0 series lead late Tuesday night.


In Tuesday's "Breakfast With Benz" podcast, Pens Radio Network host Brian Metzer joins me to discuss the Penguins loss. We talk about what needs to change for Game 2 and if Evgeni Malkin can come back. And what happens if Tristan Jarry continues to struggle.

Listen: Tim Benz and Brian Metzer discuss Penguins' Game 1 loss to the Islanders

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.