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RECAP: Casey DeSmith is stellar in Penguins’ 2-1 shootout victory over the Islanders

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Casey DeSmith was sensational in a game featuring a tough goaltender battle, tons of special teams, and a Jake Guentzel shootout winner.

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at New York Islanders Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Pregame

Pittsburgh’s annual Dad Trip (one that always yields great results on the scoreboard) began tonight on the road, as the Penguins took on the Islanders. The fourth and final meeting between these two Metro foes took place at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York, an arena that most of the Penguins’ players have fond memories and enjoy playing in. Well... everyone except for Kris Letang.

“I don’t like Nassau at all,” Letang said. “In Brooklyn, at least you’re in New York City. You can have a nice meal with your teammates and walk around. I definitely like Brooklyn better.”

Gotta love the honestly.

A few updates about the current roster: Patric Hornqvist, Matt Cullen, and Matt Murray all skated in practice this morning, but none returned to the lineup. Hornqvist didn’t take any line rushes, Cullen was seen in a gray no-contact jersey, and Murray was rotating with Tristan Jarry and taking shots, so the road to recovery seems to be nearing its end for these three guys.

1st Period

A whole lot of nothing happened during the first 10 minutes of play. The Islanders tilted the ice a bit and were gifted with a few early power plays (one that included a pretty weak holding call on Evgeni Malkin) that the Penguins’ exceptional penalty kill shut down with ease. In light of all the monotony and special teams, Sidney Crosby leapt over Jake Guentzel to provide some entertainment:

New York led in shots on goal and chances against after owning a lot of possession through the neutral zone. The Isles often sprung on pucks and turned on the jets between the two blue lines, leaving the Penguins choking for air and in the dust. To stifle them, Pittsburgh resorted to slashing, holding, and interference calls. It was a poor defensive performance in transition this period.

Despite that, Casey DeSmith was stellar to start and even stood tall to make two huge saves on Josh Bailey with no one around him on the Islanders’ man-advantage and Brock Nelson on the breakaway (stop me if you’ve heard this before) with 5.8 seconds to play in the opening frame. The period ended with the Penguins failing to capitalize on a double minor power play and the Islanders gaining momentum with a few, late odd-man rushes.

2nd Period

Seven minutes into the second, Islanders’ forward Anthony Beauvillier capitalized on a one-timer thanks to a pretty horrible turnover by Derick Brassard in arguably the worst spot in the defensive zone.

The Penguins closed out the middle frame unable to get much traffic in front of the net to maybe force through a re-direct or a greasy goal. Robin Lehner was a brick wall (because of course he was) for New York and continued his blanking of Pittsburgh’s scorers; this game was very much a goalie battle. Shots on goal were even at 13, both teams were 0-for-3 on the power play, but the Penguins were sole owners of hits (16) and blocked shots (21) lead through two.

3rd Period

Brassard made up for his turnover three and a half minutes into the final period with his fourth goal of the season. After Guentzel knocked down a puck itching to leave the zone, Brassard stayed with the play, tracked the puck down, and spoiled Lehner’s shutout to tie the game at 1-1.

A weird situation involving a screaming slap shot from Malkin that connected with an Islander’s face created some post-whistle, extracurricular activity with Cal Clutterbuck and Letang. Clutterbuck instigated with some chirping and a cross-check, and Letang then retaliated with a shot of his own. Letang joined Beauvillier (who served the penalty for a locker room-bound Clutterbuck) in the box. Odd stuff.

The period ended with another myriad of great saves by Desmith. That’s back-to-back games needing to be decided by overtime.

Overtime/Shootout

After almost netting a wrap-around try, Brassard was sent to the box for a “tripping call” basically urged on by the Islanders fans in their seats and not the referees watching the play on the ice. During one of the Islanders’ power play sequences, DeSmith made a paddle save that knocked his stick out of his hands and out of reach, but the Penguins — miraculously — managed to clear it before the Isles could take advantage.

This game had shootout written all over it ever since its initial puck drop. It took 10 shooters to come to a final result, but in Guentzel’s first shootout appearance, he seals the second point for the Penguins, as they went on to win 2-1. It officially made him the fifth player in Penguins’ history to net a game-winner in his first shootout attempt.

Some Thoughts

  • Penalties and breakaways against continue to plague this team. The Penguins were lucky the Islanders’ power play hasn’t been dangerous or succeeding at a regular rate, otherwise this game would’ve gotten out of hand very quickly.
  • The neutral zone was a clear weak spot for Pittsburgh tonight. Guys were often seen pinching too early, not sprinting back on defense, or simply looking disinterested in playing defense between the blue lines. It sprung a lot of Islanders onto odd-man rushes, and if it wasn’t for DeSmith seeing beach balls all night, New York would’ve had a nice cushion on the scoreboard well before the halfway point.
  • Speaking of DeSmith, woof, did he not have much help in front of his cage. Breakaways, the defense fading away in their own zone, terrible turnovers in the neutral zone and right at the point during failed breakouts and zone exits were all things his teammates put him through. DeSmith also dealt with unlucky pucks bouncing off the end boards into and around the goal crease. He singlehandedly kept the Penguins in contention so they could come back and tie things up.
  • I mentioned the need for a greasy goal, but the only guy on this team that actually makes a living doing so is Hornqvist, and he’s still out with an upper-body injury. The Penguins missed him in a big way and really could’ve used his willingness to succeed in the dirty areas. Like we said, he skated on his own during practice this morning. Hopefully his return to the lineup is eminent.
  • Brassard got a tough one to go down low about 10 minutes after I wrote the thought above this, so I guess it’s all relative!
  • The Penguins won in a shootout. Everyone go play the lottery tomorrow!