A an all-too-typically wild affair between these two teams included a two-goal comeback by the Islanders and some firewagon hockey to finish the second period. The third period was played far more carefully by both teams until a domino of failed assignments enabled Sidney Crosby, left all alone, to score the winner with just 1:16 left in the game.
The result was a 4-3 regulation win for Pittsburgh, a flip of that last meeting one month ago, and a tough result for Kevin Poulin, who made some key saves to give the Isles a chance to win.
The game-winning goal off a Pens dump-in was painful, in more ways than one. A group effort:
- Radek Martinek tried to seal the puck on the boards but lost the battle to Chris Kunitz.
- Pascal Dupuis was then left alone on the opposite side behind the net, so he had options when Kunitz won the puck to him.
- Neither Thomas Hickey (guarding the front of the net) nor Cal Clutterbuck (coming back into the play) had taken Dupuis, so Hickey approached him to block the pass (but failed) and Clutterbuck let Crosby sneak free to convert at the opposite side.
- Crosby had space to sneak over there because John Tavares had vacated that spot to chase the long way behind the net.
It was an appropriate time for Butch Goring to use the "Poulin didn't have a chance" line. The Pens had outmaneuvered their pesky wannabe-rivals at the other end of the Metro table.
- So the line of Tavares, Vanek and Okposo is kind of fun to watch. Welcome back, Austrian.
- Seriously, that line was fantastic. They nearly opened scoring on the first two shifts, creating multiple chances and a trend that continued throughout the night. Thomas Vanek had two goals in his return to the lineup.
- However, the Isles were forced to play from behind as -- stop me if you've heard this before -- the penalty kill was unable to bail them out. Pittsburgh received three power plays in the games first eight minutes, and Chris Kunitz scored on the second and third ones to lead 2-0 by the 7:55 mark.
- After Vanek got the Isles on the board early in the second period, Radek Martinek had a great view of Evgeni Malkin's goal that made it 3-1, Malkin's first since Oct. 17. Colin McDonald scored on a nice far-post shot on a 2-on-1 five minutes later. Vanek intercepted a pass and worked the puck with Kyle Okposo for the tying goal that made it 3-3.
- Vanek wasn't the only Austrian to return. Michael Grabner was also back in the lineup, following his healthy scratch. He had one shot on goal and just 13 seconds of PK time. (He blocked a shot early, which appeared to keep him off at least the early PKs.) He also delivered a massive hit on Kris Letang, GIF-ified here for your diversionary pleasure.
- I'll say this for Craig Adams: He knows how to crosscheck. He delivered a devastating one to Frans Nielsen's lower back in the final minute, then Brooks Orpik sat on Nielsen to keep him in the other zone. Neither move was called a penalty though, because the Islanders were already on the power play and there is an NHL rule against, like, calling the rulebook and adding another one there.
- (Not that the Islanders power play would convert. No sir.)
- Credit to the Isles for coming back though. Even with a deflating opening via the PK, they seem to know they always have a chance to get back into it against the Penguins.
- I don't know what that is, exactly -- not what the comeback belief is, but rather how the Islanders always get the Penguins running around and lured into the trap of trading chances on the transition. I guess players like Crosby and Malkin, at heart, loooove the opportunity to match a team flash for flash.
- On the above, Crosby had a theory, via the Post-Gazette in Pittsburgh: "They take chances. They pinch their [defensemen]. When they’re keeping puck alive, they’re going to generate things. But if you get pucks by them, you saw we got a number of odd-man rushes because of that. We just can’t get sucked into making high-risk plays because they are. We get an odd-man rush, we’ve got to take advantage of it. I think if you look at a typical tight checking game, you get an odd-man rush, if you don’t put it in, sometimes you lose that game. You don’t expect to get five or six and sometimes you take it for granted. I think we just get a little too crazy on offense to get those odd-man rushes because we know they’re available."
- The comeback might never have happened: Kunitz scored what looked like a hat trick goal that would have made it 3-0, but it was called back thanks to a high stick by Malkin on Matt Carkner. The confused Penguin faces were priceless.
Alas, the comeback happened, but ultimately didn't matter. Neither the PK nor the power play could help add the necessary complement to a decent 5-on-5 effort -- a reality that did not escape coach Jack Capuano:
Capuano: "The special teams sucked."— Sean Gentille (@seangentille) November 23, 2013
For once, after a rough start the Isles got some game-saver stops from their goaltender, with Poulin adding to his highlight reel in the second and third periods. It was no dominant performance from him -- still four goals against, again -- but he kept the game from becoming Toronto.
In particular, there was this stop of Malkin on a breakaway with the game still tied at 3-3 in the third:
That was supposed to be the Moment That Saved the Game, or some such offering sponsored by your favorite P&G product, financial company, or fast food joint.
Instead, it's just a nice GIF. And a remorseful one.
The Isles play tomorrow night in Philadelphia, where the Flyers are resting and waiting for them. And the Isles are looking up at every team in the division.