Facing the prospect of taking a seven-game winless streak out on to the toughest road trip of the season, the New York Islanders found yet another way to break sticks and shatter hearts with a fall-from-ahead 3-2 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins at Nassau Coliseum.
You can't say the Isles didn't get any breaks: Their much-needed 2-0 first period lead (courtesy of Kyle Okposo) was built on them. But the officials and the Isles' shaky discipline (including their captain's) combined to provide the league's most dangerous power play too many opportunities. That was how the Penguins got back in the game, it was how the Isles wasted a second impressive performance from rookie Anders Nilsson, and it's why this devastating funk will continue.
As good as the Islanders top line and most of the squad was during the first period -- forcing the Pens to adapt and line juggle -- that's as tentative and progressively on their heels they became during the rest of the game. (The shot attempt chart at Extra Skater tells the story.) No, the referees absolutely did not help, but key Islanders players did themselves no favors.
The latest gut stabbing came via a series of deflating blows that had "bad omen" written all over them.
Deflating blow number one: With the score still 2-0 late in the second period, John Tavares took a soft but real crosscheck on Pascal Dupuis, and James Neal converted on a nice backdoor feed from Evgeni Malkin with 16 seconds remaining. It was the Isles' game to lose up to that point, and they lost it.
Deflating blow number two: Aaron Ness went to the box for his second high-sticking penalty of the night, and this one cost them. Initially, however, it looked like they might extend their 2-1 lead when Frans Nielsen was hooked on a breakaway feed from Michael Grabner, just 11 seconds into that power play. With plenty of time to ponder his move and his many encounters with Fleury, Nielsen went to his latest move, a good deke to the forehand. Fleury was up to the task, however. The Pens power play would continue for another 1:07 until...
... deflating blow number three: Sidney Crosby finished a cross-ice one-timer from Malkin, tying it at 2-2. Nilsson deserved better.
Deflating blow number four: The Islanders get a rare power play after Malkin goes on the warpath with any Islander he can find. With Thomas Vanek in front of the net on that power play, Brooks Orpik gets two free blasts at him, as does Kris Letang, who fells Vanek with the ole poke to the back of the knee. No call. At center ice, Vanek does a retaliatory slash at Matt Niskanen ... and gets whistled.
Yep, this kind of inverted justice is your NHL dollars at work.
Vanek really, really needs to resist there and he's taken some bad penalties in his short Isles tenure, but it's hard for me to chide him too much when the refs just established that four assaults with the game on the line are just fine.
Regardless, the Isles survived that overtime penalty kill, but that's not how this goes. The Penguins still win. Their intolerable and unstoppable captain finished the job.
Return of the FLOLry?
After a flukey opening goal that was helped when Kris Letang slammed into Fleury, this was the Kyle Okposo shot that made it 2-0 for the Isles.
Via SB Nation
Quoth Pens blowhard Bob Errey, in a rare moment of appropriate commentary: "I don't believe it. ... This is like deja vu with Marc-Andre Fleury."
Unfortunately, the deja vu did not continue, and the detestable tools pulled it out again.
One of the Times Anders Nilsson Saved the Game
This GIF doesn't do Nilsson's save on Neal justice, but here it was in the third period, soon after the Penguins had tied it:
Alas, Nilsson couldn't save them all. He finally gave the Isles the save-your-bacon goaltending they've lacked, but it wasn't quite enough. Again.
Crosby scored the winner after intercepting a Vanek blueline chip for Tavares, then zipping through Travis Hamonic and Calvin de Haan for the OT goal. Alex Ovechkin one night, Crosby the next.
The Isles are 8-15-5 and sinking deeper into the cellar of the Metropolitan Division.