The New York Islanders are better than I thought. (I should have had to take a closer look at the rankings.)
The Islanders have won two close games on Long Island because they have been able to impose their style. The Pittsburgh Penguins did not smell. They just could not go.
The Penguins only minimize their efforts and are excellent when they are bored. But they prefer to attack the race. Islanders prefer Penguins. Benefiting from the last home move, Islanders coach Barry Trotz has had good fighting, neutral zone ownership and the Penguins' attack has gone.
Full credit to Trotz. You work with what you have. Trotz does not have star power. So he plays with tactics and plays with the forces of his team.
The Penguins fault was marked by untimely moments.
Witness to Kris Letang's overtime rotation in the first match. In the second match, the Penguins finally took the lead and had the opportunity to control the method of the match. They kept that lead for only 169 seconds, falling absurdly victim of a 2 in 1 that saw the Penguins fall behind on the rink. The structure and focus were nonexistent.
The disappointment of match 2 was encouraged by the attribution of six power games to the Islanders on penalties undeniable and mostly useless. It was punctuated by the mini-fight at the end of the game. It gave the Penguins a spoiled, small and desperate look. It was reminiscent of the melting defeat against Philadelphia in 2012.
But a playoff series is a four-way race. There is still time to fix it. (Tampa Bay certainly hopes.)
Most of the time, the Penguins simply have to play better. Games 1 and 2 were winnable. A massive overhaul is not necessary and is unfeasible after 84 games.
The endless debate Jack Johnson / Olli Maatta / Marcus Pettersson is the main topic of discussion. But Maatta did not lose the first match. Johnson did not lose the second match. (I scraped Pettersson in Game 3. Let everyone play three rounds.)
Jared McCann missed game 2 because of an injury. If he is available for the third match, I will dress Teddy Blueger, not Dominik Simon (a goal in 33 games).
But these decisions are marginal. They do not determine the results. Penguins need more than just reworking.
Tactically, the Penguins should perhaps reject the style of the Islanders. Unload the washer over. Do not let the Islanders keep pace with the defense against a team that always attacks the same way. Have Islanders turn around for a change.
It does not have to be done every shift. Do it for segments of the game. Ask the fourth line to do it all the time. But disturb the islanders. Make them retreat.
If I could make a change to the depth chart of Game 3, I would move Patric Hornqvist to the right wing of Sidney Crosby's line.
Hornqvist has already skated with Crosby and wisely. But Hornqvist does not navigate the neutral zone with speed and tactility. Crosby would prefer that Bryan Rust or McCann play with him and Jake Guentzel.
But the Islanders do not allow anyone on the Penguins to navigate the neutral zone with speed and touch. So, what is plan B? Putting Hornqvist on Crosby's line of action would force this unit to play down more, and everyone involved knows it.
Hornqvist has already made room for Crosby. After two unsuccessful attempts in the playoffs, Crosby needs all the space available. The islanders choke him. So move this traffic closer to the net. Crosby is the best hockey player of all time under the hash brands.
But coach Mike Sullivan will not put Hornqvist on Crosby's starting line – if Saturday's training is a clue, he could inexplicably use Simon instead – and the Penguins will not start throwing the puck.
Sullivan should not be criticized for not making these changes, or making no changes. The Penguins had a great success under Sullivan playing in a certain way.
But if the Islanders eliminate the Penguins in the first round, it will be time to take a critical look at the Penguins method and their list. A quick mini-rebuild that surrounds Crosby with more youth and speed might be the best choice for the future.
But this introspection is still two losses away. Two games are held at PPG Paints Arena. The series will return to the Nassau Coliseum and will not be shocked if it goes equally.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show from 3pm to 6pm. weekdays on WXDX-FM 105.9.