The Penguins welcome back Matt Murray into the net after missing the last nine games with a concussion. Josh Jooris is also back from the minors to take the place of the injured Carter Rowney.
And the homestanding New York Islanders bring the following lineup to the party.
#Isles Lines:— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) March 20, 2018
Gibson in goal
Looks better than a team who has won one game in their last 14 games, but here we are. Dennis Seidenberg is back after a lengthy absence to injury.
Murray has to be sharp early and he is, stopping John Tavares from point blank range just 35 seconds into the game.
The Isles keep up the pressure and score the game’s first goal with a point shot from Johnny Boychuk eluding traffic (and maybe touching Mat Barzal) but definitely jumping into the net for a 1-0 NYI lead 5:10 in.
Olli Maatta takes a penalty to send New York to the power play. NYI hits a post but can’t score. Riley Sheahan creates a turnover and gets a breakaway but goalie Christopher Gibson slams the door on him.
NY does the next scoring, Kris Letang moves the puck to Jake Guentzel but he can’t clear the zone and the Pens numbers are spread and lacking defensively. That’s bad news because the puck is dropped for Adam Pelech to skate into like it’s the hardest shot competition and, yeah, pretty much you hit that on target and that one is going in. 2-0.
Jamie Oleksiak takes a penalty on the next shift as the Pens are trapped in the zone and then Kris Letang gets a coincidental minor with Anders Lee during the penalty. Cool to have so many defenseman in the penalty box.
Pittsburgh seems to be shaking off the rust and playing a little better as the period goes on but the first frame ends with a 2-0 NYI lead. Shots overall are actually 15-13 Pens, though.
Murray makes a nice save on Barzal here and he’s probably luck that the pass wasn’t given to Barzal a second earlier.
Pens continue to play a little better, Sidney Crosby feeds Bryan Rust down low for a chance but Gibson blocks him again. Letang makes a nice defensive play and springs Phil Kessel on a two-on-one but Kessel falls for no reason and uncharacteristically can’t take advantage.
The puck pops up in the air and Patric Hornqvist does wait until it’s at waist level to play it but the refs blow it dead for high stick. It wasn’t but he loses his mind and gets a deserved unsportsmanlike conduct. On the ensuing power play the Isles hit the post multiple times but can’t score. Brian Dumoulin puts a love tap on Tavares and for a 5th time a Penguin goes to the penalty box on the night.
Jooris and Tom Kuhnhackl team up on a 2-on-1 and Kuhnhackl almost scores but gets hooked and for the first time all game a penalty on an Islander is called, though it’s only a 1:10 Pittsburgh power play on the overlapping calls. the power play is out of sorts and doesn’t score.
The Pens finally get on the board with their new 3rd line. Derick Brassard cycles around to Kessel who makes a great cross-ice pass to Conor Sheary. Sheary is able to get enough on the one-timer to sneak the shot past Gibson. 2-1.
Shots end up 17-12 Islanders for the 2nd period.
Late in a shift fairly early in the period, Evgeni Malkin takes an unnecessary o-zone penalty and Lee scores a beauty of a backhand chip over the shoulder of Murray. 3-1.
Time becomes the enemy, Pens pull their goalie and Hornqvist ends up making a save in the crease because of course he does. But the magic runs out and NYI converts on the open net. 4-1
- Interesting to see coming off penalty kills that the Pens had Crosby and Brassard playing together and then Malkin-Kessel temporarily reunited. Some of that is due to resting the PKers but those combos aren’t pure coincidence.
- First game in 4 days off can lead to rust and yeah not the cool Bryan kind of rust that makes great plays and scores lots of exciting points and stuff. Pens down 2-0 about 10 minutes into one of the worst teams in the league, but any team in the league is still a team in this day and age. Quite the hole to jump into early.
- The Pens put themselves in bad spots to go to the penalty box and the refs sent them five times. The Islanders only committed one in the eyes of the refs. Sometimes it bes like that.
- Pittsburgh’s penalty kill continues to struggle and bleed goals against so it would probably be nice if they had a little less work. Specifically on totally avoidable offensive zone penalties by Malkin and Horqnvist. Those are two team leaders and they can’t hurt the team like that.
- You know it was a weird game when Hornqvist had double the time killing penalties (14 seconds) as he did time spent on the power play (just 7 seconds).
- Letang has been on ice for the last 6 goals against for the Pens (prior to the empty netter), some on the PK. Becoming a talking point but shouldn’t exactly be surprising that a guy who plays almost half the game and is involved in lots of Corsi events for and against is often on the ice for lots of goals, both for and against. I believe (too lazy to look up) that Letang’s been on the ice for every goal both for and against in the last 2 games.
- Murray was just OK in his first game back. Made a few nice saves early couldn’t do much about the goals against, battled in the second for 17/17 in a lot of work. Left his angle ever so slightly and Lee made a great shot for a goal in the 3rd and that one hurt, but again, if you iso on that shot you really just have to tip your hat to a guy who made an excellent play lifting the puck with about no room to do so. Murray did have a great save with 4 minutes left.
- Crosby’s 13 game point streak against the Isladners is over. Just seems odd when he doesn’t totally light them up. Crosby did have 3 shots on goal in the first period alone, ended up with 4 on the night.
- Sheary got the goal but he didn’t get much opportunity. His 10:12 played was second lowest on the team to Kuhnhackl.
- In plus news, hey at least no one got obviously hurt during this game. In some ways just escaping unscathed is a small consolation.
In the preseason if you were told the Pens would take 3 wins in 4 games for their season-series with NYI, you’d take it all day long. But then again, losing Game 72 when you’re rested and are in a tight playoff/division race isn’t ideal either. Perspective, as always, is everything. It was a long layoff and the Pens weren’t good early. Hopefully now they can rebound quickly as they head home for a game tomorrow against Montreal.