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Pens/Islanders Recap: Pittsburgh’s lead evaporates on the Island

The Pens are up 4-2 at one point, but despite controlling most of the game find a way to lose 5-4 in regulation to the New York Islanders

Pittsburgh Penguins v New York Islanders Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images


The Penguins are using the same personnel and groupings as they had in their last game on the west coast even now that they’re back east.

First period

It’s a good start for the Pens, who force Ilya Sorokin to be sharp early on shots from Sidney Crosby and then Brian Dumoulin in front of the net.

Scary moment when a P.O. Joseph point shot gets deflected by an Islander and flies into the neck/throat area of Brock McGinn. McGinn gets off the ice under his own power and at first sits on the bench but eventually gets pulled to the dressing room to check it out.

The Pens keep to work and hold onto the puck for the longest time. A great shift by the second line leads to a line change. Joseph fires from the point, Sorokin appears to have stopped the puck but the refs don’t blow the whistle. Crosby knows why they didn’t, he finds the puck and slams it into the net. 1-0 Pens.

The Islanders respond and get back in the game with truly one of the strangest goals of the season, and perhaps that this observer has ever seen. Marcus Pettersson turned the puck over with a pass attempt from behind the net to Mat Barzal. Barzal quickly snapped a pass for Anders Lee in front. Casey DeSmith stopped Lee’s initial shot, but ended up laying on his back, with the puck uncovered on his black pants. The refs did not blow the whistle again, and Lee was able to see the puck and swat it into the net. It was like he was playing golf and DeSmith was the tee! Truly incredible. 1-1 game.

In the last minute of the period, the Pittsburgh fourth lines gets a couple of nice cracks at Sorokin, but they can’t score.

Shots through one period are 17-8 Pens. It was 11-4 about 13:50 in before Pettersson’s turnover. That leads the score to be tied at 1. Not the best, not the worst — but considering that Pittsburgh has been the better team early, it’s disappointing that they’re not rewarded for it.

Second period

Pittsburgh starts out the second period the same way as the first, with a total onslaught on Sorokin. They get the first six shots of the period, including multiple chances by Evgeni Malkin and Bryan Rust. They can’t score but the first line gets back out there and can. Kris Letang makes a great lead pass up the ice. Jake Guentzel fires a hard pass to Rickard Rakell and Rakell just keeps his stick on the ice and redirects it past a helpless Sorokin. 2-1 Pens.

Pittsburgh keeps it up, Rust again does everything but score as the second line continues to dominate with a prolonged shift in the NYI zone. They finally get a reward, Joseph flicks a shot in from the left point and Jason Zucker puts a tip in on it. 3-1 Pens.

Joseph’s high-event night continues with the first penalty of the game when he holds the stick of an Islander and grants NYI a power play. Pittsburgh kills it off.

Despite a very dominating effort, weak goaltending keeps it close. Brock Nelson takes an ordinary looking zone entry and turns it into a wrap-around goal. 3-2 game.

DeSmith then turns the puck over behind the net, but fortunately recovers in time to keep it out of the net.

Malkin gets tripped by Barzal and Pittsburgh gets their first power play of the night. No dice. But the Pens double shift their top line and Bo Horvat blocks a shot right to Crosby. Bad move, one quick pass later feeds Rakell in the slot and he fires in his second goal of the night.

It looks like the Pens have let the air out of the balloon in the arena, but the Islanders don’t go away that easy. Anders Lee tips in a shot from Barzal to keep New York within one.

Shots in the second are 19-8 Pittsburgh. And it’s 37-18 overall. But the lead is only one.

Third period

Joseph takes a second penalty on the night to give NYI another crack at the power play. And the Islanders tie it up. Jeff Carter can’t win the faceoff, McGinn can’t get out to the point and DeSmith can’t stop the puck. Brock Nelson scores his second of the game with a high shot. 4-4. (Shots 36-21 Pens).

As time ticks away, overtime looks possible, but the Islanders opportunistically pop up to take that away. Kyle Palmieri gets away with a bit of a hold on Brian Dumoulin in a battle down low and gets the puck to Nelson who tries to center but it looks like Rust might put it in his net. 5-4 NYI with just 2:43 left.

The Pens pull the goalie and put a final push on in the dying seconds. It doesn’t work. Islanders escape with the win.

Some thoughts

  • It’s tough to sit back and pick up the pieces of what happened in this game. The expected goals were 5.2 - 2.4 in favor of Pittsburgh. They controlled the puck for most of the game and should have had a win. Shoulda, coulda, woulda. Despite being the better team, they end up losing, and in regulation to boot. It’s a bitter, bitter pill to swallow.
  • But you had to be impressed by the Pens’ start. For a team that usually comes out the gates very slow, uninterested, falls behind (you know the drill) they were the opposite tonight. Fast to get on pucks. Quick to sling it at the net. Living in the NYI zone. It’s kinda sad it feels like a huge surprise and bonus for the team to not stumble and start off being bad, but it’s a feeling that’s been well-earned over a long-season of mostly starting slow and being bad.
  • The Pittsburgh first and third goal both started with a Joseph point shot. The Islanders just looked bad at everything defensively early one, covering the point was one area. Covering the forwards was another. From Joseph to Chad Ruhwedel (two assists, which doubled his season total) to Letang and Pettersson (assists), the defense was active and supporting the attack more effectively than usual.
  • Sorokin was the only reason this one didn’t get out of hand. Everything the Pens got, they had to earn, which usually included tipping pucks from point blank range to give the goalie no chance at all.
  • The Islanders entered tonight two points in the standings behind Pittsburgh (and even more importantly, four games behind). They leave tonight down tied in the standings, but still four games behind. At a time like this it doesn’t feel great, but positioning overall hasn’t changed too much.
  • Since in the thoughts section we have criticized some Mike Sullivan decisions, let’s give him his due with double shifting the Pens’ top line late in the second period for an o-zone start right after the power play. It resulted in the Crosby to Rakell goal. Made it a 4-2 game and should have shifted the balance of the night. It didn’t though.
  • In the “you’ll never know what you’re gonna get on a night to night basis from DeSmith” this was not one of his finer nights. Tough to play winning hockey with those Nelson goals. One of them? OK, maybe stuff happens. But overall, not a comfortable night in net for the Penguins, despite keeping the shots and chances down by their defense. At some point the goalie has to keep the puck out of the net, Sorokin was doing that all night. DeSmith was folding on just about every opportunity. The difference in quality between the two netminders was an absolutely huge equalizer, and tipped the balance of the result.
  • Bryan Rust generated an absurd 1.71 expected goals on his own via Moneypuck. And an actual 0.0 goals, unless you count the one he put into his own goal. Been tough for him, good he’s getting some looks with seven SOG and 11 total shot attempts, but at 13 goals in 54 games it would be nice to see him light the lamp some more.

The result of this game is going to sting for a bit. The Pens should have won it, but they lost. They have to play a tougher team tomorrow and will have less energy and a lot to get over in a short amount of time. Maybe that will be a good thing to get right back at it, but at this point the Penguins badly need a game where they don’t have to play in front of DeSmith for once.