The New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins have played what is, perhaps, the most intriguing series of the first round thus far. The Islanders have likely deserved to win both of the last two games based on their 5-on-5 play, but penalties and poor play by Evgeni Nabokov gave the Penguins a Game 3 overtime victory. A lot of people were ready to write their "the Penguins will be alright after that scare" stories on Sunday afternoon, but will this finally be the game where the Penguins look like the Penguins?
There's reason to believe they may not be out of the woods yet, simply because the Islanders' problems may be more easily correctable. The Penguins were absolutely dominated by the Isles at even strength, especially in the third period. Frans Nielsen, the team's best defensive center and perhaps the most underrated player to make a difference in this series, was not on the ice for a 5-on-5 shot against the entire game. The Penguins have problems, and we haven't even discussed their defense yet.
Still, Sunday is proof that the Penguins don't have to play their absolute best to beat the Islanders. Sidney Crosby was on fire all day Sunday, notching three assists in the win. Evgeni Malkin can still play better, and this team has scored 13 times in three games. The Penguins will have to pay for their defensive sins down the road if they aren't corrected, but does anyone think it'll be during this series?
Can the Islanders fix their penalty kill?
In his postgame press conference on Sunday, Jack Capuano cited his players were skating "wrong routes" when shorthanded. He had been asked if the penalty killing woes were just the Pens being incredible or the Islanders having a structural problem. Capuano suggested it was a little of both. The Penguins scored three out of five times they were on the power play, including Chris Kunitz's game-winner in overtime. That will beat literally any team in the postseason. If the Islanders don't figure it out, they're toast.
Will Evgeni Nabokov be merely mediocre again?
One of the more underrated aspects that has kept the Islanders from being ahead in this series is the play of Evgeni Nabokov. Even when you factor in the Penguins' talent and the Islanders having a defense that is either young (Travis Hamonic, Brian Strait) or more... offensively focused (Mark Streit, Lubomir Visnovsky), Nabokov hasn't played nearly up to snuff. Nabokov has a .836 save percentage and a 4.78 goals against average. He's faced only 73 shots in the postseason so far. The only goaltenders who've faced fewer are either backups or Roberto Luongo. Nabokov playing at top form would make this series interesting again, but it's hard to buy that he will.
Just how badly can the Penguins defense play?
Cause seriously, it looked pretty bad at times. There were very few exceptions. Kris Letang, Paul Martin, Matt Niskanen, Mark Eaton, Douglas Murray and Simon Despres (who only played six minutes) all had some very poor moments on Long Island Sunday. Though they helped produce a couple of the Penguins goals, they've featured shoddy D-to-D passing, been unable to get pucks deep, and have let the Isles offense run all over them on many shifts. You can blame Marc-Andre Fleury for not being right again all you want, but the fact is, the defense in front of him is just as much responsible.