Empty Thoughts: Islanders 4, Penguins 3 (OT) | TribLIVE.com
Penguins/NHL

Empty Thoughts: Islanders 4, Penguins 3 (OT)

Seth Rorabaugh
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Observations from the Penguins’ 4-3 overtime loss to the Islanders.

NEW YORK — Jake Guentzel was standing there.

Chest out. Perfect posture. Hands on his hips. Equipment bag at his feet.

As reporters were allowed into the Penguins’ dressing room, Guentzel was waiting for them.

He was ready to claim responsibility.

Guentzel was assessed a double minor at 8:35 of the second period. The initial infraction was for roughing Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield. He was then given an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for offering an unsolicited critique of the officials’ work. A brief part of that discussion was heard on an open microphone throughout the arena.

Towards the end of that second minor penalty, the Islanders scored a power-play goal to tie the game, 2-2.

It was a crucial juncture in this game as it represented the last moments the Penguins led the contest.

Guentzel realized his play was selfish and lacked composure.

“I’ve got keep my cool,” Guentzel said. “I can’t give them a chance to get back into the game with four minutes (in penalties).

“Just lost my cool. Got to be smarter.”

Speaking with reporters is one of the least favorite parts of Guentzel’s job. So the fact that he essentially invited media to descend on his locker stall to issue a mea culpa was a considerable display of accountability on his behalf.

Guentzel owned his mistake and explained it.

It would be refreshing if referees Jean Hebert and T.J. Luxmore, as well as linesmen Steve Barton and Scott Driscoll, would have as well.

In a hotly contested game between two rivals, the officiating was arguably the most notable factor on the ice. There were 10 power-play opportunities in this game, with seven of them being rewarded to the Islanders.

The Penguins lost this game by their own merits, especially when you consider their malfunctions in overtime as of late.

But to put the Penguins, who entered the game with an average of 2.3 power-play opportunities against per contest, on the penalty kill seven separate times was a bewildering display.

The only thing more obscene was the clusterbumble which took place with just under three minutes left in the game. After Penguins forward Brandon Tanev was clobbered into the boards by Islanders forward Anders Lee, officials allowed play to go on. It was only halted when Lee and Penguins forward Zach Aston-Reese began to fight.

While Lee landed several punches and even caused a cut on Aston-Reese’s face, officials didn’t even give out fighting majors and instead assessed roughing minors.

As they try to sort things out, one official temporarily ejected forward Jared McCann from the ice, but after order was restored, the officials realized McCann’s ejection was a mistake.

Given that the visiting bench is not directly connected to the visiting dressing room, defenseman Zach Trotman had to leave down the Zamboni gate and making the winding trek to the dressing room to retrieve McCann, who by this time had started to remove pieces of his equipment. Play was halted several moments to allow McCann to return to the ice. But even then, officials dropped the puck on the ensuing faceoff before McCann emerged from the gate.

“The one ref told me to get off the ice,” McCann said. “I think they were confused on what the call was and definitely weren’t on the same page.

“I had my shoulder pads and everything off. I had to quickly get re-dressed and go out there.”

It was a completely inept and embarrassing display for the four officials on the ice as well as the NHL as a whole. This looked like something you would see in a dek hockey game off of Route 22 in Murrysville.

Yet, none of the on-ice officials were available to media, as is NHL policy, to explain what happened.

Players and coaches and both teams were available to explain why they succeeded or failed on Thursday.

The officials should have been too. They are as much a part of this game as Jake Guentzel or Anders Lee.

Officials in the NFL, NBA and MLB are all available to the media after games in some way shape or form, usually in a pool reporter setting. Occasionally, the NHL will make a crew chief available in the playoffs, but that person has nothing to do with goes on the ice and will offer little of substance other to say the officials made the correct call.

The NHL protects its officials as if they are fragile and delicate. Maybe they are.

One thing is certain, they are never held accountable in in a public fashion.

This league should join its counterparts, each of which have decided to make a vital portion of their games, the officiating, transparent.

When HBO or some other documentary filmmaker wants to put a microphone on officials, there seemingly is no hesitation. Why can’t they speak to reporters, even if only just to offer a prepared answer with little weight?

Jake Guentzel explained his foul-up.

Jean Hebert, T.J. Luxmore, Steve Barton and Scott Driscoll should have too.

What happened

The Penguins took the game’s first lead only 64 seconds into regulation. Under pressure from forechecking Penguins forward Bryan Rust, former Penguins goaltender Thomas Greiss hurried a clear from behind his net and turned it over to Guentzel in the right corner. Guentzel fed the puck along the boards to defenseman John Marino at the right point. Marino launched a wrister which deflected wide on the near side of the net where Guentzel was able to sneak a backhand pass above the crease through the slot and to the inside of the left circle. Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin surged past Islanders defenseman Adam Pelech and dove to swat a backhander past the blocker of the former Penguins goaltender. Assists went to Guentzel and Marino.

Things were tied, 1-1, at 15:12 of the first period. After Islanders forward Mathew Barzal beat Malkin on a faceoff in the Penguins’ right circle, Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield controlled the puck at the right point. Surveying the offensive zone for a moment, he ripped a wrister which glanced off the stick of an approaching Aston-Reese and deflected past goaltender Matt Murray’s glove hand on the near side. The lone assist went to Barzal.

Rust reclaimed the lead for the Penguins only 69 seconds into the second period. After Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock fumbled a puck at the Penguins right point, Rust claimed it and raced up the left wing into the offensive zone. From the left circle, he ripped a wrister to the far side past Greiss’ glove hand on the far side. It was Rust’s eighth goal in only 11 games this season. The score was unassisted.

A power-play goal tied the game again, 2-2. Pulock fed a pass from the center point to former Penguins forward Derick Brassard in the right circle. Brassard teed up a slapper which hit Penguins defenseman Jack Johnson then deflected across the ice to the left circle where forward Anthony Beauvillier settled it and ripped a wrister past the blocker of a sprawling Murray. Brassard and Pulock were credited with assists. The four-minute power-play was set up off Guentzel’s roughing minor and the ensuing unsportsmanlike conduct minor after he mouthed off to the officials.

The Islanders scored again on the power play late in the third to take their first lead of the contest. After seemingly losing a faceoff in the Penguins’ left circle, Islanders forward Brock Nelson settled a bouncing puck and ripped a quick wrister past Murray’s blocker on the near side at 15:06 of the third. Beavillier and Barzal netted assists.

After the non-fight between Aston-Reese and Lee (as well as McCann’s phantom ejection), that left the game in a four-on-four situation and the Penguins took advantage of it. With Murray pulled for an extra attacker, the Penguins essentially created a power play of their own. Taking a pass from Dumoulin in the left circle, Malkin surveyed the offensive zone for an instant then snapped off a shot or pass attempt towards the crease which glanced off of Pelech and deflected on net. Greiss made the save but allowed a rebound. Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist was right there in the crease and jabbed at the puck while falling forward, forcing it through Greiss’ five hole at 19:30 of the period. Officials reviewed the play to check for a potential offside but found nothing. Malkin and Dumoulin netted assists.

In overtime, the Penguins’ continued to struggle. Less than 48 hours after losing to the Islanders in overtime at PPG Paints Arena, the Penguins adopted a much more conservative approach. And it worked as neither team really generated many opportunities. In fact, the Penguins failed to get a shot on net in overtime. The Islanders? They got one and it ended up in the net.

After Rust missed the net with a shot from the left circle, the rebound hit off the glass and created something of an outlet for Barzal who lugged the puck up ice with speed and created a two-on-two with Nelson against Penguins defenseman Marcus Pettersson and a backchecking Rust. At the center red line, Barzal fed a little forehand pass to Nelson and allowed him to carry play into the offensive zone on the left wing. As Barzal drove the net and dragged Rust with him, Nelson challenged Pettersson directly. Dragging the puck across the slot going from his forehand to his backhand, Nelson overwhelmed a flat-footed Pettersson and appeared to completely jam up Murray who was well above his crease and woefully out of position to stop a backhander which won the game. Barzal had the lone assist.

Statistically speaking

• The Penguins had a 26-24 edge in shots.

• Malkin led the game with six shots.

• Nelson led the Islanders with five shots.

• Dumoulin led the game with 25:58 of ice time on 30 shifts.

• Pulock led the Islanders with 24:25 of ice time on 26 shifts.

• The Islanders had a 34-28 advantage in faceoffs (55 percent).

• Nelson was 12 for 17 (71 percent).

• Penguins forward Teddy Blueger was 8 for 13 (62 percent).

• Penguins defenseman John Marino, Islanders forward Cal Clutterbuck and defenseman Nick Leddy each led the game with three blocked shots.

Historically speaking

• After going 29 years without a regular season overtime win against the Penguins, the Islanders got their second overtime victory against the Penguins in as many games. And Nelson scored the winning goal in each of them.

• Prior to Tuesday, the Islanders’ last regular season overtime win against the Penguins was a 4-3 road victory at the Civic Arena on Dec. 23, 1990.

• Nelson became the first player in franchise history to score overtime goals in consecutive games.

• Malkin (1,115 points) surpassed former Islanders/Sabres/Rangers forward Pat LaFontaine (1,113) for sole possession of 84th place on the NHL’s career scoring list.

• The Islanders set a franchise record by recording points in 16 consecutive games (15-0-1). Their lone loss in that stretch was a 4-3 home defeat to the Penguins on Nov. 7.

• Nelson appeared in his 500th career game.

Randomly speaking

• Before the game, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan announced Justin Schultz will be sidelined “longer term” due to an undisclosed injury. He apparently suffered the injury during practice on Wednesday in Cranberry.

• With Schultz sidelined, the team recalled defenseman Zach Trotman from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Trotman and Chad Ruhwedel each made their season debuts.

• Trotman logged 19:00 of ice time on 23 shifts, including 1:29 on the power play. He had one shot off of three attempts and recorded two blocked shots.

• Ruhwedel got into the lineup after being a healthy scratch for the first 21 games of the season. He logged 13:26 of ice time on 21 shifts, including 2:34 on the penalty kill.

• Ruhwedel also recorded a holding minor at 8:28 of the first period. That leaves Schultz, forwards Alex Galchenyuk, Joseph Blandisi, Murray and goaltender Tristan Jarry as the only members of the NHL roster who have yet to record a penalty this season.

• Hornqvist returned to the lineup after missing seven games due to an undisclosed injury. He logged 15:27 of ice time on 21 shifts and scored one goal on one shot with two attempts.

• Hornqvist had a new center to work with in Dominik Simon. With all their injuries, the Penguins moved Simon to the third-line center role between Hornqvist and Dominik Kahun. Simon logged 10:22 of ice time on 15 shifts and had two shots on four attempts. He was 3 for 9 in faceoffs (33 percent).

• The Penguins experimented with Simon at center in the preseason after he ripped up the IIHF World Championship tournament in May at that position.

• Sullivan also announced forward Nick Bjugstad will be sidelined a minimum of eight weeks following surgery on a core muscle. He’s had just a rotten season on so many levels.

• Galchenyuk had a three-game assist streak snapped.

• Rust had eight goals in only 11 games this season.

• The Penguins’ overtime record fell to 3-4.

Publicly speaking

• Sullivan was … we suppose you could call this “diplomatic” … when asked about the officiating:

“It doesn’t matter what I think. The referees are going to call the game the way they see it. We’ve got to live with it.”

• Guentzel on the team’s penalties:

“When they’re calling everything, we’ve just got somehow … I don’t know if it’s sticks or what. We’ve just got to figure a way to stay out of it. Our (penalty kill) kept us in the game. It was huge again. It has been all year for us. Huge marks for them.”

• Rust on the penalties:

“That isn’t ideal but at the end of the day, I thought we did a pretty decent job with it. Their first one was a lucky bounce off of Jack’s leg and then it went right to the guy. The second one was a faceoff scramble, the guy had a good shot. We did a pretty good job on the kill. We’ve just got to stay out of the box a little bit more.”

• Murray was pleased with how his team performed overall:

“We played really well. I thought we deserved better. If we don’t take (eight penalties leading to seven opposing power-play opportunities), if we don’t have to kill that many, we probably end up with a better result.”

• Sullivan was happy with his team when it wasn’t killing penalties:

“Five on five, we played real well. We made good decisions with the puck, we were competing hard. Five-on-five, I really liked our game. … It was a collective effort, it was team play on both sides of the puck. And that’s how we have to play, especially given the circumstance we’re in right now.”

• Sullivan explained the difficulties of killing so many penalties:

“It’s hard because it takes certain guys out of the game. Other guys are overtaxed. There’s no flow to the game. It’s just hard.”

• Murray was curt in explaining the overtime goal:

“He made a nice play. He stayed patient, had two or three chances to shoot it and he just held onto it. He made a nice play.”

• Sullivan liked what he saw out of Simon at center:

“I thought he did well. I liked his line. I think the two Doms (Simon and Kahun) have a little bit of chemistry. They’re both pretty smart players. They’re good in tight space. (Hornqvist) brings an element of grit. He’s heavy on pucks. He’s good in front of the net. That was some of the logic in putting that line together.”

Visually speaking

Game summary.

Event summary.

• Highlights:

Follow the Penguins all season long.

Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

Categories: Sports | Penguins
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