A few hours before puck drop, Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan revealed that Mark Jankowski did not participate in the morning skate was was out for tonight’s game against the New York Islanders. Later in the day, the team announced that Jankowski had been placed in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol.
Penguins forward Mark Jankowski has been placed on the NHL's list of players unavailable due to covid-19 protocol.— Seth Rorabaugh (@SethRorabaugh) March 27, 2021
This meant the Penguins had yet another lineup hole that needed to be filled and that meant roster shuffling. Drew O’Connor was recalled from the taxi squad and placed right in Saturday night’s lineup in place of the missing Jankowski. Other than that, nothing changed in terms of who was lacing up the skates from two nights earlier besides Tristan Jarry being back between the pipes.
Here's tonight's lineup that will be taking on the Islanders ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/IPjfOD6QwG— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 27, 2021
For the Islanders, Ilya Sorokin got the nod in goal while Kieffer Bellows was in the lineup for the injured Michael Dal Colle. Longtime Islanders forward Josh Bailey was playing in the 900th game of his career.
Penguins get an early powerplay after Oliver Wahlstrom bowls over Tristan Jarry in the crease, but the Penguins can’t even get setup in the Islanders zone let alone create a threatening chance with the man advantage.
After failing to do much of anything on the powerplay, the Penguins get their first shot of the game courtesy the fourth line and they make it count. Breaking out in a 2-on-1, Freddie Gaudreau buried a pass from Sam Lafferty past Sorokin for the 1-0 lead.
Frederick Gaudreau's first goal as a member of the Penguins got things started tonight pic.twitter.com/Ssu0TtTHfR— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 27, 2021
Less than five minutes after Gaudreau opened the scoring, the Penguins doubled their lead off the stick of Evan Rodrigues. Jared McCann used his speed to skate into the zone where dropped a pass for Rodrigues who made no mistake from the top of the left hand circle.
Rodrigues loves shooting from around that spot, huh?— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 27, 2021
Who can blame him when it works this well! pic.twitter.com/S52H2yXYdV
Although the Penguins were holding a 2-0 lead, they were far from being in control of the game. The Islanders were winning the shots battle and playing a good bit in the Penguins zone but were unable to convert any pressure into a goal.
Tristan Jarry committed a rare goalie high stick to give the Islanders a shot on the man advantage for the first time on the evening. The Islanders power play was much more organized than the Penguins but the result was the exact same as the Penguins successfully killed off the penalty with no damage done.
In the dying moments up the first period, Sam Lafferty was whistled for a trip and the Islanders went back to the power play. With less than a minute left in the frame, the Islanders tried desperately to cut into the deficit but it was all for naught and the Penguins 2-0 lead held into the first intermission.
Penguins kill off the remainder of the Lafferty penalty coming out of the locker room but not before a slight scare when an attempted clear bounced off the legs of Matt Barzal and trickled just wide.
Nick Leddy sits for slashing just past the four minute mark of the period and this time the Penguins make the Islanders pay on the power play. Sidney Crosby won the original face-off to give the Penguins possession then cleaned up a rebound in front from a point shot by Kris Letang to make it 3-0 in favor of the good guys.
You can always count on the captain. pic.twitter.com/wLFFNQ1wUF— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 28, 2021
Another Islanders penalty just a minute later put the Penguins back into a man advantage situation and they once again made the Islanders pay for their sins. Some slick passing ended with Crosby feeding a wide open Bryan Rust in the slot and he buried a shot past a helpless Sorokin for a 4-0 lead.
That was the Penguins fourth goal on just nine shots in just over 26 minutes of game time and spelled the end for Sorokin on the evening. Semyon Varlamov came off the bench to take over goaltender duties the rest of the way.
Any hopes the Islanders had that Varlamov could spark a comeback were quickly erased and it was Bryan Rust putting those dreams to rest. Varlamov failed to control a point shot from Kris Letang and Rust was unimpeded in front of goal where he knocked the puck to himself and deposited it into a wide open net for a 5-0 lead.
Given how the game was progressing, no one could blame you if you thought the Penguins were playing the Sabres, but Matt Barzal made an appearance to remind us that was not the case. Barzal caught the Penguins napping on a bad change and skated past Letang and scored over the glove to bring the Islanders within 5-1 midway through the second.
Barzal’s tally was the last significant action of the middle frame as the Penguins saw out the rest of the period and headed to the locker room having doubled their lead thanks to Sidney Crosby and Bryant Rust.
Barzal used his speed to create the Islanders first goal and he did the same on their second. His quickness was enough to get around Marcus Petersson and cut in on Jarry who made the original save but could not recover in time to stop Anthony Beauvillier from cleaning up the rebound to make it 5-2 Penguins.
Late in the period, the Penguins and Islanders began trading power play opportunities and it nearly put the Penguins in a bit of a predicament. During a brief 4-on-4 stint, Jordan Eberle cut the lead to 5-3 with the net empty and a power play looming.
Luckily, the Penguins were able to kill off a Rust penalty without allowing the Islanders to close the gap to just a single goal. As Rust was freed from the box, the Penguins cleared the puck and he gathered it and calmly deposited into an empty net to finish off the hat trick and seal a 6-3 Penguins victory.
- There’s been a ton of ink spilled about the Penguins power play struggles this season but it came through in a huge way on Saturday night. Two power play markers in less than two minutes in the second period put the Penguins up 4-0 and all but sealed the deal. What’s more, they found success against an Islanders penalty kill that has owned them this season.
- On the flip side, the penalty kill put together a stellar performance, going 4-for-4 on the evening including a pair of kills when the lead was only 2-0 and another when they allowed the Islanders to sneak back into the game late.
- Earlier this week, Gretz wrote about the importance of Jared McCann as the Penguins battle through this string of injuries. All he’s done since that post is put together a three game point streak that included another two points against the Islanders. He was once again the Penguins most noticeable forward.
- Another two points against the Islanders for Sidney Crosby moves his career total to 122 in 74 games played against them. Good for a 1.6 point per game average across his illustrious career. Far and away his best numbers against any opposing team.
- Tristan Jarry was once again solid as a rock in goal. Hard to blame any of the goals on him and when the Islanders were threatening he kept them at bay as best he could.
- Ilya Sorokin has been nearly unbeatable this season and even shutout the Penguins back in February. Any aura of invincibility he had coming into tonight was quickly erased as the Penguins posted four goals on nine shots against the Russian netminder.
- Getting that early lead against the Islanders is important given their style of play, but perhaps even more importantly, they kept building on it as the game went along. One Islanders goal when it was only a two goal game could have flipped the momentum but the Penguins kept the pedal down.
- It’s hard to believe the Penguins can suffer any more than they already have when it comes to guys on the shelf, but they were dealt another blow on Saturday with Mark Jankowski being placed in COVID protocol. After puck drop we also learned that Brandon Tanev is heading into the protocols as well.
- While it stings to keep seeing bodies be lost for one reason or another, not enough can be said about the players stepping up to fill the void. It was Radim Zohorna on Thursday night and Drew O’Connor stepping into the lineup on Saturday. Freddie Gaudreau more than looks the part so far ad Jared McCann has been on another level.
- The Islanders easily won the shots on goal battle Saturday night, but until their third period push, nothing they threw at Jarry was particularly worrisome.
- For all the troubles the Islanders seem to give the Penguins, the Penguins are now 5-2-0 against the Islanders this year and are inching closer to that Eastern Division lead. The two sides wrap up their season series on Monday.