Radim Zohorna is out tonight, drawing Vinnie Hinostroza back in. Alex Nedeljkovic is playing on the second half of the back-to-back, otherwise the Penguins are the same as they have been previously.
The Islanders get Scott Mayfield back from IR and Casey Cizikas back from the sick bay for their lineup.
New York chooses to start Cizikas and their fourth line, which isn’t unusual, but Mike Sullivan goes with his fourth line to match them - which is different. Pittsburgh also puts out their third pair defense and right at the drop of the puck John Ludvig and Matt Martin drop the gloves and fight in what had to be a carryover from last week’s game.
Cizikas gets a breakaway but Nedeljkovic denies him with the glove. One big save at the other ends usually means play goes the other way for a response chance, and on that chance Jansen Harkins sets up Lars Eller in front for an early goal. Pens out in a hurry 1-0 jut 2:18 into the contest.
ABSOLUTELY LOVING THIS START! pic.twitter.com/E3RzaurduW— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) December 31, 2023
Sidney Crosby gets caught on a very weak little slash and Nedeljkovic flip, flops and flies all over the place to keep the puck out of the net.
No stick, no mask, NO PROBLEM pic.twitter.com/qhfeiREd1i— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) December 31, 2023
The Evgeni Malkin penalty drawing tour begins, Bo Horvat holds Malkin to earn the Pens their first power play of the game. Then 1:02 into that power play, Simon Holmstrom trips Malkin to send the Pens to a 5v3. They can’t score in the final 26 seconds of the period but set themselves up for a break and fresh ice on the other side of intermission.
Shots are 14-11 NYI early. Nedeljkovic looked like a rock star, the Pens scored early and that was that.
Pittsburgh opens the period with 26 seconds of 5v3 time and another minute plus of 5v4 action. Jake Guentzel has a chance to chip a rolling puck into an open net but misses the target.
Undaunted, at 5v5 the Pens score anyways. Drew O’Connor slings in a centering effort from the right wall that Noel Acciari tips between his legs and off an Islander on the way in. 2-0 with another early period goal.
Last night: Acciari was given the Bold Penguin helmet— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) January 1, 2024
Tonight: A between-the-legs deflection goal pic.twitter.com/tlaCIfK9HY
Sidney Crosby gets whacked on the side of the head with a follow-through high stick by Mat Barzal and heads off.
The Isles get dinged for too many men, and sans Crosby the Pens go to another power play. Guentzel hits a post and after a whistle Alex Romanov punches Rickard Rakell and they both get minors.
O’Connor goes to the penalty box for an offensive zone holding call, but the PK takes care of it without much drama.
Shots are 12 a piece in the second, the Pens chip in another goal and have this one in their control with 20 to go.
The third begins much like the earlier periods, with Nedeljkovic dazzling with a series of saves and robbing Cizikas from scoring a goal. This wasn’t even the best sequence, but hey ya work with what you get.
Just going to lay here for a second and reflect on 2023. pic.twitter.com/8Ybxy2Nfv0— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) January 1, 2024
Finally, with 6:09 to go the Islanders crack the code on Nedeljkovic and score on their 35th shot. Hinostroza can’t clear the puck and it bounces to Samuel Bolduc who quickly shoots and gets NYI on the board.
The Isles lift Sorokin for an extra skater with a little less than two minutes to play. Anders Lee almost has a backhand tuck but Guentzel does enough to disrupt him. Play goes the other way and Guentzel hits the side of the post and can’t seal it but Eller is able to fight through a check and finish it off. 3-1 game.
NYI takes a faceoff violation with 34 seconds to go back to the box to end any hopes of a late comeback.
Time runs out and that closes the book on 2023 in a winning note.
- After a couple of quiet and sluggish starts lately, tonight’s opening had fireworks. Ludvig and Martin scrapped, then Eller scored and this game had a totally different tone set than the sleepy opening 20 minutes that these two teams had a few nights earlier.
- Alex Nedeljkovic is a good goalie, but on top of that he’s also an entertainingly good goalie. He’s got a good glove hand, he’s willing to scramble and use his athleticism when he has to. Just has that sort of flair for the dramatic of being a showman on top of everything else.
- And “everything else” was 36 stops on 37 shots, taking NYI’s 3.3 expected goals and only giving up one actual one. Stellar performance in net again for the backup goalie.
- The Pens’ first goal looked a lot like last night against St. Louis, tracking the puck up the neutral zone in a tight bunch, lots of hungry players advancing together. For all the talk and clatter about “adjustments” (as a fill in for wanting different results), the NZ play and pack mentality lately has been looking strong for the Pens.
- On the Pens’ 5v3, both Crosby and Malkin ended up high and far from the net, and that’s all you need to know about how that one went. Success isn’t as guaranteed as one of them getting down to the net, but seems to be a pre-requisite most of the time.
- Drew O’Connor has been too quiet in most of the games so far this season, but lately he’s been coming on. His skating will earn him chances a lot of times and his setup game lately has been strong. Getting secondary production like that is so huge in the balance of games and when players like O’Connor and Harkins are generating offense it’s going to be a big force multipler for the offense and the rest of the team.
- Little Nikita Malkin was in attendance and Papa Geno was shooting to score. 6 SOG and though it didn’t work, he’s been motivated and looking to get after it lately.
- Nice to see Crosby come back in the same second period after catching a hard stick to the face. Had a big cut under his left eye that required some stitches but luckily didn’t look to do that much damage (easy to say when it’s not your face).
- Crosby did only play a few shifts down the stretch in the game, wasn’t comfortable for him getting ice on his cut on the bench by a trainer at one point like a boxer in between rounds of a fight.
- No more shifts for Ludvig in the last six minutes of the game after his adventure during the goal against.
It’ll be a new year, but the grind continues. The Pens are back at it at home on Tuesday night to host another divisional foe that they’re trying to make up ground on in the form of the Washington Capitals.