Major reinforcements on defense as Kris Letang and Mike Matheson are back from injury, and John Marino dodges the COVID-protocol list to stay in the lineup. Tristan Jarry draws back in as the starter.
Welcome back to the lineup, Letang and Matheson! pic.twitter.com/iMxfH2TzXi— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) February 6, 2021
Early on the two teams lock horns as always and have a lot of plays between whistles, believe it or not. Constant thorn-in-the-Pens-side Jordan Eberle is the first to strike, he blows by Cody Ceci with speed on the backhand and fires a heavy backhand shot that glances off Jarry’s arm and into the net. Ceci is looking to take away the middle of the ice, but takes himself out of the play and Eberle one-on-one with the goalie is tough. 1-0 NYI.
that backhand tho >>> pic.twitter.com/4bcmnxMyRI— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) February 7, 2021
At this point though, the Pens do well to take over. A couple of really nice shifts by the Sidney Crosby and line and Evgeni Malkin line. Crosby’s line gets on the board. And any time something good happens for Pittsburgh in the last 7-10 days, it’s probably got something to do with Pierre-Olivier Joseph, and this is no different. Joseph starts a breakout, then jumps in the play when Jake Guentzel lays a pass back for him. Joseph steps into a shot and snipes it over Semyon Varlamov’s glove for his first career NHL goal to tie the game at 1.
Unfortunately, the lead doesn’t last. Drew O’Connor turns the puck over at the offensive blue line and NYI is ready to strike on transition. Matheson and Marino are doing, well, I’m not sure what, but somehow Eberle ends up behind the defense and all alone. Jarry stops a shot but his rebound goes directly to Eberle who has an easy finish. 2-1 NYI.
Shots end up 9-9, with all time played at 5v5. Corsi is also an even 50-50 split. NYI has a 10-8 scoring chance advantage and 6-4 high danger scoring chance advantage through 20 minutes.
Pittsburgh starts out the period very strong, pinning NYI in their own end. The Islanders didn’t touch the puck outside of their d-zone for the first 3:30 of the whole period.
Matheson and Casey Cizikas take coincidental minors and we get some 4v4 time. Both teams have a decent look at the net in the sequence, but the goalies stand tall.
Jarry scrambles and makes a great stop on Josh Bailey.
The Pens keep throwing a lot on goal themselves, and finally they get rewarded in the period. Evgeni Malkin gets on the ice and helps to force a turnover and keep the puck in the o-zone after Jason Zucker lugged it in. Kasperi Kapanen bumps the puck back to Malkin who has a lot of open room to step into and Malkin rifles a shot over Varlamov’s glove to tie the game with 15.8 seconds remaining. 2-2 game.
Zucker deserves so much credit here, getting his stick involved in the play twice defensively before being the guy that leads the transition. What a little viper Kapanen is though to feed Gene pic.twitter.com/pbC2Hkfcno— geoff (@geoffwithano) February 7, 2021
Shots in the period are 14-10 Pens. That’s a bit misleading, as Jarry was called onto make a bunch of quality saves, and he stopped them all. The late goal to tie the game was huge for momentum and confidence (especially with Malkin getting his first 5v5 goal of the season and only his second of the year).
Pittsburgh controlled 61% of the shot attempts, and generated a 14-9 scoring chance advantage. Their play in the second half of the period was very impressive.
The Pens keep going to work, and their first line gets on the board. Sidney Crosby makes a great pass to Jake Guentzel, who quickly snaps a shot by Varlamov to give the Pens their first lead of the evening. 3-2 game.
The Islanders tie it up. Shortly after Guentzel feeds Rust for another great chance that gets denied, the Islanders strike on transition. Joseph and Letang both go behind the net to chase a puck, which isn’t great, and the puck pops out for Cal Clutterbuck to bang it in all alone in front. 3-3 with 11:37 left.
Lots of free-flowing play after this, with Pittsburgh again doing well to control play and possession of the puck. But with 3:45 to go in regulation, the Pens give NYI the first power play of the game when Teddy Blueger clears the puck over the glass.
With Blueger (the typical first PK center) in the box, the Pens put Sam Lafferty out to take the faceoff. He lost it clean and that led to NYI have full zone time. Eventually they play the puck through their umbrella and get a hard shot on net. Jarry made a save but a rebound leaked out for Anders Lee to tap into the net. 4-3 Isles with 2:44 left.
The Pens pull their goalie and get some o-zone time late, but it’s not enough and fall 4-3 in regulation.
- Jared McCann left the game with an apparent injury in the first. O’Connor bumped up to the third line and the other fourth liners (Mark Jankowski and Sam Lafferty) were used sparingly. Nice time to be getting Zach Aston-Reese back for that left side, possibly as soon as next game since it isn’t until Thursday.
- The Crosby line was all kinds of dominant. Through two periods they were on the ice for 15 Corsi events for, to just 4 against. Varlamov made several good saves against him, but there was nothing he could do when Crosby wired a pass for Guentzel in the third.
- Really curious coaching decision to have Lafferty take the opening d-zone faceoff on the penalty kill. It was his only faceoff of the night. It came after a TV timeout too, so to not use Jankowski or even Crosby there felt like a missed opportunity for the Pens to not put a better option in place there, and it bit them.
- And watch that replay again, what if it’s Brian Dumoulin on the top PK and not Chad Ruhwedel losing the man in front of the net and lazily waving a stick as he softly lunges to get back in the play?
- For a string of about the middle 40 minutes, thought Jarry was having one of his strongest games. Then it ends and he’s given up 4 goals, 2 by way of rebounds and musters a .846 save%. Just tough to win NHL hockey games with goalies failing to make saves and keep the puck out of the net. Jarry DID do that in the 2nd period, and the Pens worked their way back in the game. Then, at the end, it was another below average night in net.
- Overall, tough one to handle since the Islanders are really going to be the Penguins main challenger for a playoff berth. Pittsburgh’s chances to make it if they end up below NYI in the standings this season is NOT very good. And they had a lead in the 3rd. Tough to turn that into nothing. But...it’s just one of eight games, six of which will happen in the next 23 days. It’s not a great start, but only the first chapter of so many meaningful games in the near future.
- And it’s tough, because the Pens really worked for earning a result tonight, just couldn’t do it. The Pens had 56% of the Corsi events, 58.5% of the 5v5 scoring chances, 56.7% of the high danger chances. Every member of the first line could have had a goal or two themselves, quite easily. Just didn’t work out that way.
Unlocking the 3 keys to the game (from the preview)
#1: Picking up after the long break.. There were several stretches between whistles of long areas of play. The Pens tended to do well here. Really, it was one of their better games of the year. The Crosby line was so good all night long. Malkin finally scored a 5v5 goal. They actually could ice a lineup composed of NHL caliber defensemen. Not a great result, but there wasn’t any signs of rust in a bad way for the Pens.
#2: Suppressing shots. Great job by the Pens here, they were able to throw a ton of rubber on net, especially in the second and third periods.
#3: Powerplay struggles..again. Well, Pittsburgh never got the chance, which I guess is at least a way to not end up struggling on the power play if they never get one. Unfortunately, the game turned on the Isles’ only PP of the night late in the game where they scored what ended up being the game deciding goal.
The end result is tough, but in a lot of ways this wasn’t a bad game by the Pens. They didn’t come out on top, but played pretty well on the road, got a bad break late when Blueger cleared the puck out and ended up not getting any points out of the night. Now, a few more days to rest and regroup and they’ll see these same Islanders next on Thursday.