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Penguins/Islanders Recap: A relatively easy, stress-free win? What is this? Pens win 4-1

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For once, thanks to nice goaltending and some puck luck, it was an easy win for the Penguins. Well, that’s a first this year

New York Islanders v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

Pregame

Drew O’Connor gets back in the lineup and the Penguins try to switch up their top six a bit by flipping the top two right wings to put Bryan Rust back with Evgeni Malkin.

First period

Five minutes in and the line change pays off. Brock Nelson breaks up a pass in the d-zone, but Kasperi Kapanen bumps him off the puck and quickly fires a shot short-side on Semyon Varlamov that Sidney Crosby deflects on the way in for good measure. It’s quick enough to catch them off guard. 1-0 Pens early.

Game ambles on. Crosby goes for hooking in the last minute of the first period.

Shots are 14-11 NYI, but 5v5 scoring chances are 10-9 Pittsburgh.

Second period

The Pens kill off Crosby’s penalty and a bit later Sam Lafferty goes to the box and Pittsburgh kills it off again.

The Islanders take a rare penalty and then another when Jake Guentzel is high-sticked and the Pens get 1:13 of a golden 5v3 chance. They do basically the bare minimum with some zone time, Crosby pushes a shot off the outside of the net but otherwise squander such a good opportunity.

Pittsburgh starts to get a little creaky defensively, giving up a few odd man rushes and starting to look like the mistakes are adding up but Jarry stands tall. Then Mike Matheson intentionally plays the puck off the boards with a shot attempt that’s really a pass to himself. Matheson steps up in the play and shoots, Varlamov kicks out the rebound right to Teddy Blueger who is the only player on that side of the ice. Easy open net goal to make it 2-0.

Shots in the period end up 15-11 NYI, overall in the game it’s 26-25 Pens.

Third period

The power play continues but the bad comes out. Malkin telegraphs a pass that isn’t there and still tries to make it after hesitating and predictably it gets intercepted and goes the other way. Luckily Cal Clutterbuck hits the crossbar and it doesn’t go in. The Pens’ second PP group hits a post of their own shortly after.

Mid-way through the third, the Pens strike again and it’s their much-maligned second line. Evgeni Malkin does really well to win a wall battle and keep the puck in the o-zone. Malkin plays it down for Bryan Rust behind the net, and Rust centers it for Jason Zucker who is cutting to the net. Zucker quickly fires it in from in tight. 3-0 Pens.

The Isles don’t go away easily, Matheson goes to the box and Brock Nelson has a savvy little push off Kris Letang to buy himself some space to score from in front of the net for a power play goal when the Pens’ structure breaks down and no one is near Josh Bailey for the feed either. 3-1 game but with only 4:21 left.

NYI pulls their goalie way early, which isn’t a bad idea to try and keep building momentum off the goal they scored, but it doesn’t work when Malkin flips the puck out of danger and Zucker and Rust are off towards an unguarded net. Zucker passes up the easy goal for himself because he’s nice like that and serves it up for Rust to tap home. 4-1.

A relatively easy and low stress win? What year is this?

Some thoughts

  • The Islanders are so good in the neutral zone and slowing down their opponent’s speed through the middle, but the Pens were doing well deep in the NYI zone, working for pucks, winning it back and generating some offense.
  • The analysts were trying to spin Matheson’s play on the 2nd goal as he totally knew what he was doing, but he didn’t skate in a direct angle to where his rebound was going so...I don’t know about that. Still, a very slick move by him. Since he’s come back from the IR he’s generated some slick offense.
  • The last 10-15 seconds in the second period while on the power play the Pens out of desperation just got the puck to the net, Crosby had a few cracks and shots on goal from in deep. That’s the type of stuff they need, and what they’re not getting as they make perimeter passes too often. Just need to act with some urgency like the period’s about to end.
  • Is Casey DeSmith getting sick a few days ago (non-COVID I feel like it always needs to be pointed out) like the best thing that could have ever happened for Tristan Jarry’s season? DeSmith was playing just well enough last week to keep playing, and Jarry was in a funk. But with DeSmith sick earlier in the week, the Pens had no choice but to play Jarry. This game was easily his best game, but he played pretty well the last two games against the Caps too. Timing is always funny in life..
  • Tanev’s fight in the first period was only the Pens’ second of the season. Could you remember the first? I barely could. (It was Kapanen against NYR on 2/1). Those are the only two fighting majors the Pens have in the past 363 days. (Ironically Kapanen then with TOR fought Jared McCann on 2/20/20 for the third to last fight). Times have changed mightily.
  • Bryan Rust showed his “line fixer” ability with his primary assist in the third period. Nice to see Malkin win a battle and keep the play alive. Also great to see Zucker not hesitate and drive to the net. Rust filled in the gaps with the nice play. I didn’t really think Malkin/Zucker were playing as badly as maybe the most vocal critics were crowing about, and getting one here can only help build the confidence and is something to go with.
  • First game all year the Penguins didn’t fall behind at some point of the game - weeeeeee!
  • Related to the above, it looks like the puck luck is changing, at least for one night. It was the Isles who hit the crossbar when they needed a goal, or had the puck roll off their sticks or fire a nice shot only to watch the goalie make the save. For a lot of the first 15 games this season, almost nothing felt like it was breaking the Pens’ way. But nothing lasts forever, and we both know hearts can change, as Axl Rose taught us. And it’s nice to see some breaks go the good guy’s way for the first time in a long time.

It was a great game to have a great game, and the Pens finally did. Big time regulation win over what will surely be a major playoff competitor by the end of the season.