3. Sloppy defensive zone play
Two points are two points, and snapping a five-game losing streak in their first game in a week’s time is great, but this wasn’t a perfect performance by the Islanders.
Because the team’s philosophy revolves around responsibility in the defensive zone, and building offense through strong defense, it’s concerning to see such sloppy play in the Islanders own end.
The Penguins were gifted odd-man rushes at an alarming rate Saturday, and with such dangerous offensive weapons, it’s incredibly fortunate they didn’t convert those to goals more often.
The pairing of Scott Mayfield and Nick Leddy wasn’t great. They each accounted for bad giveaways as they attempted transitional passes, each of which promptly wound up in the Islanders net.
Leddy’s giveaway came on the first Pittsburgh goal, as he attempted to move the puck up the boards to Anders Lee in the neutral zone. The pass was broken up, and the Penguins quickly came down to score.
Mayfield’s error was worse, in my mind. He started the play well by busting up a Penguins zone entry, but one weak attempt at a zone exiting pass later, and the struggling Evgeni Malkin ended up with the puck on his tape. Malkin made no mistake, burying his shot high over Semyon Varlamov’s glove hand to tie the game at 2-2 in the dying seconds of the second period.
Later, the Islanders fourth line was out-hustled by a forechecking Penguins top line in the Isles zone, and Casey Cizikas uncharacteristically confused coverages, leaving Jake Guentzel wide-open in the slot to give Pittsburgh a 3-2 lead.
These are just the most glaring examples of defensive miscues by the Islanders on Saturday, not the only ones. Needless to say, this is the stuff that Barry Trotz will want to get cleaned up before Monday’s tilt at Madison Square Garden.
4. Miscellaneous Thoughts
Semyon Varlamov became the third Islanders goalie after Billy Smith and Dwayne Roloson to play in his 500th NHL game with the Islanders franchise. The win is the 236th of Varlamov’s career.
I don’t want to harp on Nick Leddy too much, but did anyone else catch his attempted end-to-end rush that wound up turning the puck over and causing an odd-man rush the other way? Yeah, that ain’t great.
Leddy’s abilities as a puck-carrier are probably the best the Islanders have on the blue line right now, so him carrying the puck up-ice isn’t inherently a bad thing. It’s the poor decision-making he displays once he’s gained the other team’s zone that is troubling and needs remedying. That play almost ended up with the Islanders being scored on. That is not how you want your puck-carrying defenseman’s rushes ending up.
With an assist on Anders Lee’s game-winning power-play goal, Mathew Barzal is now on a five-game point streak (2G, 5A).
Earlier I mentioned this is Jordan Eberle’s hottest start to a season since he arrived on Long Island. He now has five goals and two assists for seven points in 10 games in 2020-21. He had six points through 10 games in 2017-18, four points through 10 in 2018-19, and five points through 10 in 2019-20.
Eberle hadn’t recorded a multi-goal game in his first 10 appearances during any of his previous three seasons with the Islanders. He has two two-goal games in the first 10 of 2020-21. The Islanders need the goals, so hopefully, that trend continues.