The Islanders are heading back home with a split of their first-round series with the Pittsburgh Penguins. They had a chance to take a commanding 2-0 series lead on Tuesday night but faltered 2-1. The offense, which threw 37 shots on Pens’ netminder Tristan Jarry, failed to do anything of note.
One of the bigger detriments on the night was the play of Jordan Eberle. He was very soft at both ends and struggled to generate any quality scoring chances. There were several instances where the puck looked liked it was a grenade when in his possession.
This is now two straight games where Eberle has been invisible, with the second one being worse than the first. There was one sequence in particular with the Isles still looking for the equalizer in the third that stuck out. On the rush, Eberle made the poor decision to try and stop with the puck and decide to try to make a pass backward, only for it to result in a turnover and lead to a Pittsburgh scoring chance the other way.
In a series where the offense was going to be a major factor, that kind of performance is not going to cut it. Neither club’s attack has been lighting it up so far — the teams have combined for just ten goals — but you expect your offensive drivers to come to the forefront, which has been less the case with Eberle to this point.
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It’s easy to point out that his slow start to the series could be factored in with the fact that Leo Komarov is on a line with him and Mathew Barzal. But that would be making excuses. We saw that line have success in the second half of the regular season. And give credit to the Penguins, they’ve done a solid job of stymying Eberle and Co. Let us be real here thoough: Eberle himself is the one who is expected to be the scorer of that trio and find a way to get pucks on the net. Tuesday night he had three shots, with his best chance being one of the few good scoring chances the Isles had most of the night; Sunday only two.
So just five shots in just a shade under 37 minutes of ice time. Is that the kind of production from a first-line winger that translates to success? You know the answer — it does not. Also, Eberle being one of the only skill guys the Islanders really possess and not use those attributes makes things a bit more disappointing.
“I thought we were a little bit light in some areas,” head coach Barry Trotz said after the game in regards to a question about some of those skill guys not going the extra mile in the third period. “We didn’t make it hard enough on them. We’ve got to raise our level.”
Number 7 in blue and orange is right there at the top in that category.
Eberle had a strong regular season and the thought going into these playoffs was he would repeat in this series what he did to the Penguins two postseasons ago where he notched four goals in four games in a sweep. Thus far, the Isles are getting the Eberle who was in the bubble last summer. Only in that run, he was getting glorious opportunities but couldn’t convert for the life of him. In this series, he has even sniffed the net.
This series still has a long way to go before it’s decided, so Eberle still has a chance to redeem himself after what has been an awful showing through two games. He needs to elevate his game and start being more aggressive and smarter. The Isles can’t afford to see him continue to be ineffective otherwise they could very well find themselves on the wrong end when this series is all said and done.
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