Ouch. For how alive the crowd was as the Isles built their 3-0 lead and then ... this. Tonight the Penguins reminded us what it's like to have two superstars who can save the day at a moment's notice. The kind who can turn a 0-3 39th-minute deficit into a 4-0 third period and 5-3 win.
It's also a reminder that, while our rebuild is the proper and right thing to do, the Penguins cannot be the model for what we expect our patience will yield. A pair consisting of arguably the best player in a generation and one of two players who can outscore him -- a pair like that is not going to fall into the Islanders' lap, even if they "win" the next three lotteries.
So the Isles have to do it the slow and steady way, with a coach who has some ingenuity and respect, and a management team committed to patiently supporting both. They've got the latter two; they just need to keep at it.
I've already outlined why I think this team spoils leads that it worked so hard to build. My theory hasn't changed 5 wins in 8 games later. They've gotten better lately, but tonight the combination of Malkrosby's charge and the Isles sitting back was too much -- something Pensburgh says they do a lot lately. Carnage ensued. Even captain Bill Guerin took a poor penalty -- though apparently to protect Doug Weight -- as things spiraled out of reach.
You could see it when the Isles squandered their late-2nd-period power play, allowing Malkin two uncontested shorthanded breaks and Jordan Staal a clear-cut breakaway. That was followed by the "we're still here, and we're coming" goal with 20 seconds left.
As Dragoneye at Yes Islanders! said, in a sentiment shared throughout blog island:
Any knowledgeable Islander fan probably started getting indigestion toward the end of the second period. This is exactly what was happening 10 games ago for this club.
And it continued throughout the third, as Malkrosby seemed to never leave the ice while they mounted a charge that, frankly, was a hockey thing of beauty. Some of the Penguins goals were works of art in both effort and skill: game-changing forces we just do not have. Even as we made it to 14:00 left with the 3-1 lead intact, I felt no relief.
I'm already too familiar with the Scott Gordon face that says, "I can't believe we stopped skating again." But it's not a matter of effort, it's a matter of forming habits: They simply have to shake this ingrained instinct to play passively to protect leads. The delicate thing is, once one moving part on the ice breaks down, everything falls apart. The great thing is, once these guys have the habit of not backing off their system, the cohesion and teamwork involved should reap self-fulfilling rewards.
But for now, we're going to have to stomach games like this. And hopefully -- please please hopefully -- an internal (and fan or media) cry does not mount for them to adapt some sort of late-game Quenneville-like trap. Because that isn't as effective in today's NHL, it's boring and nerve-wracking as hell, and if we're not going to see this experiment through, then what's the point?