Islanders Edge: Struggles against Penguins continue, Isles fall in OT
(PHOTO CREDIT: BRUCE BENNETT/GETTY IMAGES)
After an electric win against the Boston Bruins forty-eight hours prior, the New York Islanders looked to build off of that Saturday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins, a team which they have recently struggled against.
On home ice playing some of their best hockey this season, the Isles came flying out of the gate. Determined to pull ahead and create some separation from the Pens in the MassMutual East Division race, New York struck first.
After a back and forth first period in which the Isles outshot their opponent 9-7, 18:07 in Cody Ceci was called for interfering with Isles captain Anders Lee. Just thirty-three seconds into the power-play (18:40) into the period, Oliver Wahlstrom sent a crisp pass to Brock Nelson, whose perfect tip in front of the net got the puck past Pens goaltender Tristan Jarry and gave him his sixth goal of the season. Nick Leddy was also awarded an assist, his twelfth of the season. Wahlstrom now has five points on the year.
In the second, though the period was evenly matched, just 1:34 in, Mathew Barzal (with the luck of a bounce) picked up his eighth goal of the season. Anders Lee picked up his fifth assist, and Scott Mayfield his fourth. Lee now has four points in his last three games.
All seemed to be going well for the Islanders, who were firing on all cylinders. Towards the end of a good shift for Wahlstrom, he was called for boarding Teddy Blueger 2:11 into the period. Just six seconds into the power-play, Isles goaltender Semyon Varlamov stumbled, leaving an open net for Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who cut New York’s lead in half. Kris Letang picked up his tenth assist of the season on the goal.
Known for their lockdown defense, New York had no reason to panic. This was until twenty-six seconds after Crosby scored when Kris Letang continued his recent dominance over the Islanders and tied it at two. The goal was at 2:43 and was assisted by Kasperi Kapanen and Jake Guentzel.
Both teams had their fair share of chances, and the shot count for the period was locked even at 10 apiece. But with 5:09 remaining in the period, Josh Bailey took matters into his own hands. On a perfect tic-tac-toe set up by linemates Anthony Beauviller and Brock Nelson, Bailey rifled the puck home for his second goal of the season. The Islanders went into intermission with the lead.
Going into the third period, Pittsburgh knew the challenging task that laid ahead of them. Playing against one of the best third-period teams in hockey, and one that finishes jobs better than anyone, a fast start was needed, and they got exactly that.
0:18 into the final regulation frame, the Isles were caught pinching, and Evgeni Malkin sent Jared McCann in alone, beating Varlamov and picking up his third goal of the season. Malkin and John Marino had the assists. New York got outshot 11-6 in the third period but was still able to hold the lethal Penguins offense to just a single goal.
In a fast-paced overtime, the defense was essential for both sides. There were just five shots in the extra session, with Pittsburgh getting three and the Isles recording two. With less than a minute to go in overtime, Kris Letang benefitted from a deflection off an Isles stick, and the puck was behind Varlamov in the back of the net. Crosby picked up the lone assist on the game-winning goal.
Pittsburgh has New York’s number right now and stole yet another game that the Isles felt they deserved to win. As we advance, it is expected that Ilya Sorokin will see a few starts. Tonight Varlamov looked out of place and even injured at times, particularly his right leg. After multiple straight starts and stellar play, it is time for Varlamov to get some rest, stay conditioned, and come back red hot. As he gets accustomed to playing in North America, Ilya Sorokin will continue to improve and clinch the Islanders, one of the best goalie tandems in the National Hockey League. To win games and clinch a playoff berth for the third consecutive year, the Isles need to stay out of the penalty box. Though their penalty-kill is red hot, undisciplined play comes back to haunt you, especially in playoff games. There were fortuitous bounces on both ends, but ultimately a couple of goals were not Varlamov’s fault. Oliver Wahlstrom has found his game and looks like all he was hyped up to be. With his assist tonight, he is officially on a three-game point streak. The Islanders must flush this memory and be prepared to take on the Penguins in much less than twenty-four hours.
The rematch between these two teams will occur at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Sunday at 5:00 PM Eastern Time, where New York will look to grow their point streak to four games and pick up two points.