The New York Islanders dropped Game 2 of their first-round matchup against the Pittsburgh Penguins last night in a 2-1 effort.
Despite a goal-against by Islander goaltender, Semyon Varlamov, on Bryan Rust that should have been an easy save, he alone is not to blame for the lack of consistency in the Islanders own zone.
Ryan Pulock didn’t have the greatest game on Tuesday, as he was on the ice for both goals-against, and was directly involved in both plays. In the first period, a flubbed clearing attempt landed on the stick of Rust, which seconds later found the back of the net that gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead.
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Later in the period, Pulock was caught puck-watching on the Islanders goalline and missed his assignment, Jeff Carter, cutting to the slot where he was fed and scored to pad the Penguins lead.
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“There were some plays we went brain-dead a little bit,” Barry Trotz said. “Some simple plays that we didn’t execute and we spent more time in our zone because of it.”
Pulock was certainly at the forefront of some of those “brain-dead” plays.
Had Pulock shot better than a 1.7 shooting percentage this season, he could have been in the conversation for the Norris trophy. According to Natural Stat trick, Pulock (as well as Pelech) has been on the ice for 10 high-danger chances, which is more than any other Islander skater. As half of one of the best defensive tandems in the league for the 2020-21 season that prevented well over 60% high-danger chances, Pulock will need to hit the reset button after Tuesday night’s performance and get back to his dominant top-pairing game.
As for his offensive ability, it’s no secret it’s been a rough season for Pulock. With just two goals, 16 points this season, Pulock will have to put the poor shooting percentage in the rearview mirror, and wipe the slate clean, headed back to the Coliseum, where the Islanders will possibly play three of their next five games.
Pulocks 51.43 Corsi-for percentage (CF%) suggest he likely should have found the back of the net more often than he did in the 2020-21 season. However, his 39.94 expected goals-for (xGF) this season is a career-low for him (minimum 68 games played).
A solid performance the rest of the way would forgive his sloppy play in Game 2 that proved to be costly. Despite mental lapses across the roster, the Islanders still could have capitalized in Game 2 and taken a 2-0 advantage, however fell short. Fixing these mental errors and tightening up the defense, starting with Pulock, would return the Islanders to the Trotz system that has taken this team on a deep playoff run before.
Now returning to the Coliseum where the Islanders went 21-4-3 this season, the Islanders will need their top-pairing defenseman to solidify his #1 defenseman status and help them maintain their home-ice advantage moving forward.
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