UNIONDALE, N.Y. – The easiest thing might be to freak out.
And maybe that’s what most will do after the Penguins managed one point out of a home-and-home series with a Metropolitan Division rival.
Those inside the locker room, though, won’t be among the group going nutty after Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum.
“We knew they were a good team, so I don’t think we learned anything different about them,” coach Mike Johnston said. “It’s more we had a series to play. We lost the first one in a shootout. We came into their building (Saturday). I thought for half the game we played well and the other half they took it over. We can’t let that happen.”
They also can’t continue to generate so few power plays – three since captain Sidney Crosby slammed his stick off the glass last Saturday at Consol Energy Center in disgust.
Sure, the Penguins are converting 33-percent of those chances, but one power play goal a week isn’t likely to be enough given how this team is constructed.
More shots are needed. The Penguins’ top two lines combined for nine shots on goal against the Islanders. That’s not enough. Patric Hornqvist had that total plus 33 percent more (12, I think; I’m bad at math) during the first meeting with the Islanders.
Is Hornqvist the right fit with Evgeni Malkin? I don’t know. They haven’t been bad together, but without Pascal Dupuis, it’s beginning to look like Hornqvist is the player who next brings out the best in Crosby.
I asked Johnston postgame tonight whether he would consider putting Hornqvist back with Crosby.
The response: “We’ll take a look at everything (Sunday),” Johnston said. “Tomorrow is a day off, as we head into Boston. We have four games this week, so we’ll take a look at our different combinations.”
Crosby has one goal in 11 games. He’s managed one shot in his past two games combined.
With Hornqvist, Crosby had 7-17—24 (1.71 points per game in 14 games). Without him, Crosby has 1-1—2 (.40 points per game in five games).
The Islanders look like a surefire threat to compete not only in the division but the Eastern Conference as well. This series, which Johnston said he was going to treat like a playoff series, was arguably the Penguins’ biggest test thus far.
(Don’t make the maybe-they-did joke. Don’t do it.)
The two-game grade isn’t worth freaking out over, of course, but it also wasn’t an A or a B.
“The situation with back-to-back games, you kind of look at that as a good challenge with them close in the standings,” Crosby said. “Especially here, we’ve had some pretty intense games and another close one. But we didn’t do a good enough job.”
Shipping up to Boston tomorrow. Club’s off. Any seafood recommendations, don’t be shy.
Be GRATEFUL to each other,