photo credit: Keith Srakocic/AP
Some nights everything goes your way. Some nights some things go your way. And some nights, nothing goes your way. The New York Islanders traveled to Pittsburgh to take on the Penguins, whom they’ve met with three times just this month. After coming off of a shutout victory in Buffalo Tuesday night, New York had the opportunity to extend their point streak to nine games. In their last eight games coming into this one, the Isles went 5-0-3, totaling 13 points. To continue this hot stretch of play, Barry Trotz knew his guys had to shut down a heavy offense consisting of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust, and Jason Zucker. Pittsburgh is no joke up front, and if you do not bring your A-game, they will happily feast on you.
They did exactly this on Thursday night, a game in which absolutely nothing went New York’s way.
After Brandon Tanev cross-checked Casey Cizikas just a week prior, Cizikas dropped the gloves with Tanev 2:18 in and won the fight by a mile. The Isles looked to be sending a message to the team that stole a game from them last Thursday, scoring a late goal and winning in the shootout. The Isles showed heart and seemed determined to win.
But just 4:15 into the first frame, Sidney Crosby tipped Kasperi Kapanen’s shot past Isles goaltender Semyon Varlamov. The period was evenly matched, and the Isles outshot the Pens 14-11. However, going into the dressing room after the first twenty-minute frame, New York trailed 1-0.
The second period was not a good one for the Isles by any stretch of the imagination. They were outshot 15-11 and 18:01 in; Teddy Blueger capped off a stellar passing play by Pittsburgh for his third goal of the season. Mike Matheson and Zach Aston-Reese were credited with assists.
Unfortunately for New York, there was no turning back. The third period was downright sloppy on their part, and they ended up being outshot by Pittsburgh 11-7. 9:11 into the third period, Jason Zucker scored his fourth goal of the season. Bryan Rust picked up his ninth assist on the season, and Evgeni Malkin his fifth.
15:27 into the third, Matheson sent Barzal into the boards face first and was called for a boarding penalty. Twelve seconds into the power play, Brock Nelson tipped Josh Bailey’s gorgeous pass behind Pittsburgh goaltender Tristan Jarry for his fourth goal of the season. Bailey and Nick Leddy both were awarded with their eighth assists of the season.
When your best player goes into the boards and is potentially injured, you cannot just half respond. You need to be furious and do more than just score a power-play goal. Not enough was done to send a message that the Isles would not accept Matheson‘s cheap play, just months after he laid a dirty hit on Johnny Boychuk and practically ended his career in the play-in round when he was still with the Florida Panthers.
In the final minutes, with the Islanders’ net empty, Anders Lee high-sticked Matheson. On the delayed penalty, Pittsburgh scored on the empty net. The goal was 16:54 in and was scored by Bryan Rust. This was his sixth goal of the season. Jason Zucker and Evgeni Malkin got the assists.
The final shot count was 37-32 in favor of Pittsburgh. New York’s power-play went 1/3. The final score was 4-1 Pittsburgh.
The Isles need to put this game behind them and shift their focus to beating this same Pens team on Saturday night when they play at PPG Paints Arena at 7:00 PM Eastern Time. A win could get them on the right track again. New York narrowly remains in a playoff spot and looks to create a little gap between them and the Penguins, who are two points behind them. Pittsburgh has a game in hand.