It could have been different, would have been different if only …
If only Alexander Romanov hadn’t executed a diving swipe that somehow kept a Jeff Carter deflection from sliding slowly but eventually into the net at the last possible second.
If only Ilya Sorokin hadn’t made an even more amazing save when he somehow managed to get his stick on the puck Kris Letang had shoved in the direction of a wide open net.
If only Tristan Jarry hadn’t been playing for the first time in 10 games and for just the third time in the Pens’ last 19.
The Pens were close enough to winning on Monday night that they emerged repeating a familiar refrain after yet another come-from-ahead loss.
“If we play same … we’ll be in playoffs, for sure,” Evgeni Malkin insisted after Islanders 4, Penguins 2.
The Pens have been grasping at positive straws for a while now in the wake of losing 16 of their last 24 games (8-11-5), including three in the last four days to the Islanders (Friday night), the Devils (Saturday night) and the Islanders again.
More often than not they’ve had their chances.
But they’ve, likewise, too often contributed to their own demise.
Monday night it was Jarry hemorrhaging a game-tying goal that was soft as baby poo, and then committing an unforced giveaway that led to the scramble that ended with the eventual game-winning goal.
He deserves an asterisk because of his prolonged inactivity of late.
The Pens expect he’ll be better moving forward and it’s a reasonable expectation.
The transgressions that have occurred with much more regularity of late aren’t nearly as easy to rationalize, even for the Penguins, who have annually turned rationalization into an art form.
Usually, they wait until they’ve exited the playoffs.
Perhaps this year they’re trying to avoid the postseason rush, if not the postseason all together.
Because for all that was encouraging about their play on Monday night, the Pens were also culpable.
The Islanders’ first goal resulted from a pinch that didn’t get there in time by Marcus Pettersson, an ill-advised, stick-swinging attempt to keep the puck in the New York zone by Drew O’Connor (batting the puck down with his glove would have gotten the job done) and a subsequent 2-on-1.
The Isles’ second leaked in from a bad angle, but not before Pierre-Olivier Joseph failed to chip the puck off the glass and out of the defensive zone despite having ample time and space to do so. Hudson Fasching kept it in by using his glove (what a concept).
The Pens also would have succumbed to allowing another goal shortly after they’d scored one had Jarry not stopped Zach Parise on a breakaway less than a minute after Jason Zucker had re-established a lead at 2-1 midway through the second period.
As it was the Pens coughed up a couple of goals 1:41 apart in the third, another problem that doesn’t seem to be going away.
The devil was in some of those details.
The view from 30,000 feet is the Pens too frequently still play as if they have no idea how to play with a lead.
They dominated the opening 20 minutes but still found a way to fall to 18-4-4 when leading after two periods (the Bruins, by comparison, are 30-0-2 in such situations).
“I don’t know that we did anything different,” Mike Sullivan initially contended.
Eventually, Sullivan got around to acknowledging the obvious.
“I thought we played less of a north-south game, we didn’t play straight ahead,” he said. “We’re trying to keep the puck but you can’t always keep the puck. Sometimes, you gotta put it behind teams and you gotta create offense different ways.”
Getting it deep and grinding is also an effective way to protect second- and third-period leads.
That’s how the Pens had established control in the first place, until they got away from it.
“Just play same game, like, forecheck, you know?” Malkin lamented. “But last couple games we feel pressure, we need points.”
The pressure is only going to increase moving forward.
Add the Pens’ ability to deal with that to their growing list of concerns.