For their final meeting of 2013-14, the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins reprised their 2013 playoff series: Lead changes, momentum swings, and alternate moments where one team or the other looked like it had the opponent figured out in a high-scoring affair.
As with last spring, the Penguins emerged on top after a wild game with many chapters, the potential tying goal twice on the stick of Islanders players who are used to putting it in. In the end, the Pens got their final insurance goal in an empty net with three seconds left to seal the 6-4 final score.
The Penguins' top line with Sidney Crosby made the greatest impact -- mostly against the Islanders' most maligned defensive pair -- but that stood in contrast to the Islanders' top line, which was a little too cute in the first period before pouring it on via John Tavares in the third. The Isles got some nice secondary scoring just when the top line had an off night against the conference's best.
"Inevitable" is not quite the feeling when you play the Penguins. More like you need everything to go right even when you throw your best effort at them. The Islanders did that for the first period to open a 2-0 lead, yet still a couple of slip-ups had the score tied 2-2 at the intermission.
Then the Penguins answered with their game throughout the second. Not as "push the pace" frantic as the Isles at their best, but rather a more patient, deliberate, yet still assertive game in managing the puck and using the Islanders' energy and pursuit against them. Little by little they created more dangerous openings than the Islanders did, one resulting in a great Olli Maatta foray to the net for the go-ahead goal.
The next one came at the end of power play (Matt Martin in the box on a soft but bad hook) where the Penguins managed the puck in fancy zig-zag form throughout. Kris Letang was the one who finally slapped it past a sprawling Kevin Poulin behind a foursome of exhausted penalty killers.
The Isles reached the third period down 4-2 -- hey, familiar comfortable territory! -- and indeed pushed back like it was Playoffs 2013. Josh Bailey picked a great time to score his first goal in an eternity (after a hilarious collision between Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin), Evgeni Malkin got the insurance goal back on an Isles breakdown, then Kyle Okposo made it close again on a goalmouth scramble.
Le pant, le pant, le pant.
Immediately afterward, the Islanders had two great chances to tie it at 5-5. But Malkin made a good stick play on John Tavares at the doorstep, then Jeff Zatkoff robbed Frans Nielsen from the same location on a power play.
That was about as close as they got before time ran out.
Nice Backcheck, Nice Hit
Cal Clutterbuck: Singlehandedly enabled Brock Nelson's goal by pursuing Paul Martin, leveling him against the boards at center ice, and letting Michael Grabner and Nelson head the other way on a 2-on-1. Clutterbuck's offensive zone checking also enabled Grabner's goal prior to that.
You Don't Know What You're Doing
Mr. Official: Whichever referee it was (they took their nameplates away long ago for this reason) that called the first penalty, interference on Calvin de Haan. De Haan was sticking close with Evgeni Malkin, they had an inadvertent three-way collision with another body, and CDH even took an inadvertent stick to the face drawing blood. Way to be on top of things, ref.
Andrew MacDonald: Once, his patience was a virtue as he adjusted to the NHL while paired with the roving Mark Streit. Now it seems to be waaay off to the other extreme, a passive shot-blocking guy who doesn't assertively impact play enough in the defensive zone. Against Sidney Crosby, that's really bad, and that approach burned MacDonald twice. His boxscore numbers say he will get paid like a Dennis Wideman this summer, but I don't think the Isles can afford to be the team that signs those checks. Not without changes to his game.
As an annoying bonus, MacDonald needlessly handed the puck to Brandon Sutter for the empty netter with three seconds left. Just aesthetics, but still blah.
Hey, They Got it Right!
That was Close: Pretty bad quick whistle by Dave Lewis (or "intent" to whistle) on
Matt Donovan's Kyle Okposo's goal that pulled the Isles to 5-4 with 9:05 left. Steve Kozari had a better angle and appeared to overrule him, however. Proper heads prevailed on this one with contradicting calls on the ice. [Official war room explanation here.]
Damn Technicalities: John Tavares was pulled down (twice) to create a 5-on-3, but because the trainer came out for the second one, he could not start the ensuing faceoff. The Isles won the faceoff but it eluded MacDonald (who was only on for the faceoff, to then be subbed for Tavares) and went back to the Islanders' zone. Craig Adams did a great job squashing the 5-on-3 segment of the threat.
When Casey Cizikas limped off the ice after taking a shot off the top of the knee where the shinguard don't shine, you had to figure he'd miss more than one shift, yeah? No. Must've used that magic spray they use in FIFA.
Travis Hamonic. Come back soon:
I wish Hamonic was here to smack Malkin's around some.— Keith (@KeithLHHockey) January 24, 2014
On the Bright Side
First, I just have to say once again: Wow, the games between these two teams are high-wire. Each period had its own identity, all of it dramatic.
And looking elsewhere, though Carolina won in Buffalo, the Rangers lost (to St. Louis) and the Flyers lost to Columbus -- all in regulation. For rooting for minimal points accumulation in the Metro, the night could've been worse.