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Islanders: Three Takeaways from 2-1 Game Two Loss in Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - MAY 16: Mathew Barzal #13 of the New York Islanders handles the puck during the third period in Game One of the First Round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG PAINTS Arena on May 16, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - MAY 16: Mathew Barzal #13 of the New York Islanders handles the puck during the third period in Game One of the First Round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG PAINTS Arena on May 16, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)
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Semyon Varlamov #40 of the New York Islanders. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The New York Islanders struggled out of the gate again in game two of their first-round series against the Penguins, and this time they couldn’t overcome it.

The New York Islanders started slow again in game two of their opening-round series with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Despite what was a mostly strong start by Semyon Varlamov, the Islanders just couldn’t find the offense needed to overcome their early deficit.

Here are three takeaways from the game two loss.

1. Semyon Varlamov’s Return for the Islanders

Semyon Varlamov returned to the crease for game two, and like the rest of the team he didn’t get off to a great start on Tuesday. Varly was beaten high on his glove side by Bryan Rust in the early minutes of the first period.

A little under ten minutes later, Jeff Carter would make it 2-0 Pittsburgh when he found a loose puck into the slot. Carter carried the puck toward Varly’s glove side and then shot low across his body to beat the Islanders goalie on the blocker side.

However, Varlamov would find his footing as the game went on. He finished game two having stopped 43 of 45 Penguins shots, and saving .21 goals above expected (GSAx).

There was a fair amount of criticism online about Varlamov’s early performance and Barry Trotz’s decision to start Varly over Ilya Sorokin, who started in the Isles’ game one victory on Sunday.

Certainly, the argument could be made that Trotz should’ve started Sorokin due to Varlamov’s absence from game one and the obvious injury that caused that absence. Pittsburgh wasn’t shy about driving hard into Semyon’s crease and ran him over on more than one occasion in game two.

But, I find it hard to see how going back to Varlamov in game two was the wrong call. Sure, the early goal against didn’t help the Islanders find their legs, but the entire team was absent for the first frame. The second Penguins goal was a broken play that resulted in a bad bounce for the Isles, and it wound up in their net.

Varly’s performance strengthened later, and by the final few minutes of action, he had bailed New York out more than once and kept their hopes of tying the game late alive. I find it pretty hard to say he was ultimately what sunk this team in game two.

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