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Islanders vs. Penguins Game 5 Recap: Vokoun earns shutout while Nabokov questions persist

It was quite competitive in the first, it was quite over in the second.

A typical scene during third-period autopilot time.
A typical scene during third-period autopilot time.
Justin K. Aller

The New York Islanders experienced deja vu in Game 5, suffering another Pittsburgh Penguins offensive blitz and being shutout in a reminder of Game 1.

This time the blitz didn't happen until the second period, and in fact the Islanders arguably had the better of play in the first 20 minutes.

Yet even though the Islanders outshot the Penguins 14-7 in the first period, it didn't feel quite like they were in control. Shot attempts were much closer (21-20), and though Kyle Okposo had a nice break-in on Tomas Vokoun, the Pens "backup" goalie was otherwise efficient in distributing rebounds to the corners and keeping the Islanders from reaching them in dangerous areas.

The Penguins then made some adjustments for the second period, the Islanders were victimized on two defensive mistakes and one egregious Evgeni Nabokov gaffe, and it was 3-0 and out of sight by the second intermission.

When the Penguins converted a power play opportunity 5:43 into the third period, that was all for Nabokov.

GS | ES | Faceoffs | PBP | TOI (PIT) | TOI (NYI) | H2H | Shift Chart | Fenwick/Corsi | Scoring Chances | Recaps: | Isles |

Kevin Poulin relieved, but the rest of the game was uneventful other than the moments each team tried to sneak cheap shots at one another.

Game Highlights

The Goaltending

Was Douglas Murray's soft shot or the preponderance of four-goal games in this series enough to get the Islanders to consider a goalie change as the Penguins did? Probably not, given the goals that felled Marc-Andre Fleury were memorable mistakes, whereas Nabokov suffers from an overall tendency to look just good enough to be an NHL goalie but not spectacular enough to be an above average one.

For example, you'd want a "big save" on either of the following occasions, though blame for neither lies quite at Nabokov's feet:

  • The Islanders defense had a slow change while the top line failed to keep the puck deep, so Kris Letang found Tyler Kennedy wide open for a stretch pass and breakaway at the Islanders blueline.
  • Thomas Hickey was outmaneuvered and Lubomir Visnovsky could only provide desperate pursuit when Sidney Crosby scored on a breakaway to bust the game open at 3-0. That one hurt, symbolically so, because John Tavares had just made an even more impressive set of moves to beat Paul Martin but not beat Vokoun.

That's the trouble with goaltending discussions: You want them to stop the routine ones, and wow you with some of the non-routine ones. Nabakov tends to lack the latter, and occasionally botches the former. On that topic, Brett Cyrgalis of the Post quoted Jack Capuano:

“It’s something that we’ll think about,” Capuano said about his goaltending situation. “But I have confidence in Nabby."

More concerning for the islanders in this game: Did they make Vokoun work hard for his 31 saves? Did they really threaten other than Okposo's and Tavares's solo efforts?

An objective look at the scoring chances (7-2, 5-8, 1-6 ) had the Penguins heavily dominate after the first period, and I wouldn't even consider the first all that dangerous for the Isles.

  • Frans Nielsen was reported to be "hobbling" after the game, having left in the third period with a lower body injury that is said to be day to day. That's obviously a massive hit to the Isles if he can't go for Game 6.
  • The Penguins put more speed in their lineup, and removed Fleury and Mark Eaton, and that helped. Though it was an absurdly soft call -- particularly given the interference that was allowed twice just minutes later -- Joe VItale chipped the puck around Brian Strait and drew an interference penalty when Strait played the body after the chip. Kennedy's goal, a classic cherry pick, was something Tanner Glass could not do.
  • The officiating: I'm seeing a pattern here: Wild inconsistency, benefit of the doubt given to stars when they go down, embellishment is rewarded, then misconducts are given out when the game winds down. I'm not even referring to one team or another tonight. Just mind-boggling ebbs and flows in the referee decision-making. (Oh, but the Martin-on-Martin incident was one of the best.)
  • It was amusing to watch each team try to get their licks in during garbage time though. You knew what the Islanders were doing. You knew who the Penguins were trying to target. Travis Hamonic wasn't straying from his position to say hello. Douglas Murray wasn't hanging around the Isles crease looking for a goal.
  • On that note, Jesse Joensuu entered the lineup and threw his body around when he could. Not sure if that was compensation for replacing the more physical Andrew MacDonald (injury) and Matt Carkner with light-framed Thomas Hickey and Radek Martinek or if there was something else with David Ullstrom.
  • Hickey and Visnovsky did not provide the boost they had during the regular season. But in general I thought the Isles offensive approach was conservative, then neutered when the Penguins altered course after the first period. Pierre McGuire and others pointed out the Islanders playing left-wing lock and 1-3-1 in the first; the Penguins navigated around it in the second.

So it's back to the Coliseum for a big Game 6 Saturday night. They have an uphill climb to win both games, but they have to focus on what's right in front of them first. Use the Coliseum boost and home ice and the chance to review how the Pens exploited them tonight.

Not these guys, but "they" -- or very similar laundry -- have done this before. And this actual team -- the players who wear that laundry now -- have certainly adjusted and bounced back multiple times this season and indeed this series.

Bizarro Moment

Howie Rose and Butch Goring spending 90 seconds discussing Corsi, and quite clearly:

Moment that was much better while it was still 0-0

Crosby tried to make a run; Matt Martin was ready:


Anyway, the Isles are down 3-2 in the series, backs against the wall. Come Saturday, time to see their latest response to adversity.