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Islanders: Three Takeaways from Ugly 6-3 Loss in Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - FEBRUARY 20: Oliver Wahlstrom #26 of the New York Islanders and Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins compete for the puck in the first period during their game at PPG PAINTS Arena on February 20, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - FEBRUARY 20: Oliver Wahlstrom #26 of the New York Islanders and Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins compete for the puck in the first period during their game at PPG PAINTS Arena on February 20, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)
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New York Islanders
Head coach Barry Trotz of the New York Islanders. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The New York Islanders left their goaltenders out to dry on Saturday night, and the Pittsburgh Penguins made them pay for it in a 6-3 rout.

It isn’t often the New York Islanders surrender six goals in a single game, but that’s just what happened on Saturday in the blue and orange’s 6-3 loss at the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Here are three takeaways from a mostly listless loss in Pittsburgh.

1. Islanders Continue Falling Behind Early, and it Cost Them Tonight

The Islanders have surrendered the game’s first goal in their last three games, and in five of their last six. In games past, they’ve been able to surrender a goal or two early, but ultimately come back to win, and if not, make something of a showing of the contest.

Indeed, the Islanders managed to make it a game again late Saturday night, as Jordan Eberle’s third period tally with two and a half minutes left in regulation cut the Pittsburgh lead to 5-3. But by that point, it was too little, too late.

While the Islanders have surrendered the first goal or two far too often recently, they’ve generally been able to stop the bleeding quickly enough to stay in striking distance. But going down 5-0 to the Penguins was always going to be a hole too deep.

To be fair to the Islanders, they really didn’t play a poor first period overall, in my opinion. They controlled the run of play, forechecked well, and had some decent scoring chances in the opening frame. It was in the details that the Isles looked a step behind in the first 20.

Nick Leddy and Casey Cizikas each had a share of blame on the Penguins first goal. Cizikas, playing the F3 role on the play as the last Islander forward to enter the offensive zone, fell down as the Penguins transitioned out of their zone. Moments later Leddy was caught flat-footed at the red line, allowing Sam Lafferty to blow straight past him and create an odd-man rush off a Colton Sceviour bump pass.

On the second Pittsburgh goal, an uncharacteristically sloppy line change by the Islanders third forward group gave way to a Penguins-controlled offensive zone entry. Fresh off the bench, Mat Barzal was able to harass Jared McCann just enough to cause a stumble, but Barzal couldn’t corral the momentarily loose puck, leaving it for McCann to feed a pass to Evan Rodrigues, whose shot Ilya Sorokin probably should’ve been able to save.

Indeed, the Islanders lost the first period in the details. Their overall effort wasn’t bad in the first 20, which came later in the second period. But for a team built upon a rigidly-structured system that emphasizes responsibility and attention to detail in all 200-feet of the ice, they certainly had a lot of lapses in exactly those key areas.

I don’t know why this team continues to struggle early in games, but it can’t continue to happen. The Islanders have been good about battling back from early deficits, but it’s no secret that this roster and system is not built to play from behind.

The Islanders are at their best when the opposition is forced to come to them and charge head-long into their stoutly defended blue line. That doesn’t happen if they are playing from behind. Barry Trotz needs to get his team starting games on time, because they’ve been an hour late to the action a lot of nights recently, and on Saturday it was closer to two hours late.

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