Kyle Palmieri finished the regular season by scoring just two goals in 17 games after being acquired by the New York Islanders.
He matched that total on Sunday in the Islanders’ 4-3 Game 1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
He opened the scoring in the first period on a long distance shot that beat Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry high over the glove, and then finished it in overtime right on the doorstep to give the Islanders the win, and a 1-0 series lead.
The season-ending injury to Anders Lee put the pressure on Lou Lamoriello to find some additional offense at the trade deadline, and Palmieri seemed like the perfect addition for the way the Islanders play.
Responsible defensively, good two-way player, and a significant upgrade offensively over what the team had in-house. You know every year he is going to score 25-30 goals for you and help you away from the puck.
On Sunday, it all started to pay off.
But Palmieri’s emergence is only one of the big stories to emerge from the Islanders’ win.
[Related: No Evgeni Malkin, Semyo Varlamov for Game 1]
The other is the goaltending situation which now has to be a major concern on the Pittsburgh side of the ice.
The Penguins entered the playoffs with one of the deepest forward groups in the league, a solid defense, and a power play unit that has started to get hot during the stretch run. The one big question was always going to be in net. After Jarry’s performance on Sunday, that question not only remains, it might be even more magnified.
While you might want to give him a pass on Palmieri’s overtime goal (a rolling puck, perfectly place in the top corner) there is no pass for the first three goals from Palmieri, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, and Brock Nelson. All of them were from a distance, all of them low percentage shots, and all of them shots that you should expect a starting goalie to make a save on in a playoff game.
The Pageau goal early in the third period was especially game-changing.
At that point the Penguins were holding a 2-1 lead and in complete control of the game. They were beating the Islanders at their own game with a stingy defensive performance that was smothering their offense. But Pageau managed to float an innocent shot over Jarry’s glove to tie the game and send momentum completely to the Islanders side. From that point on New York started to tilt the ice in its favor.
With Casey DeSmith injured (and his status for Game 2 not yet known) and Maxime Lagace serving as the backup, the Penguins may not have any other option but to hope Jarry rebounds on Tuesday.
The team is strong enough that he probably does not need to steal many games for them to go on a run. They just need him to be good. If he can give them that this Penguins team can go as far as anybody in the NHL. But if he repeats what he did on Sunday they could be going home early for a third year in a row.
The goaltending situation is the one area where New York has a clear and decisive advantage on paper. Even without Semyon Varlamov (out for Game 1) they still have the best goalie in the series. Ilya Sorokin was not perfect on Sunday in his first career playoff start, but given the way the Penguins had a significant scoring chance edge he was by far the better goalie in the game.
It was the difference on Sunday.
It could be the difference in Games 2-7 as well.