If the Islanders’ first two victorious meetings this season with a then-slumping Pittsburgh Penguins squad was a sign of how Barry Trotz changed their approach to their
Patrick Atlantic Metropolitan Division foe, the first December rematch showed that high-end talent can still sabotage any game plan.
The Islanders visited Pittsburgh Thursday and walked away smarting from a 6-2 defeat, with the home team pouncing on opportunities and running away with a game that was evenly played through the first 20 minutes.
The Islanders took too many penalties and failed to convert on their own power play, again, which alone could spell the story of the game.
But they also had some critical mistakes that compounded a passive effort, making what looked to be a close game with one minute left in the first period, instead, steadily slip away and beyond doubt by the end of the second.
First Period: Late goal stings
Kris Letang opened scoring at 8:34 of the first after the Pens moved the puck well to create some confusion and a collision between Scott Mayfield and Adam Pelech. Letang was able to tee up from the top of the right wing faceoff circle on a pass coming from behind the goal line.
But after wasting a power play chance to tie it up, the Islanders tied at 1-1 with a Brock Nelson shorthanded goal at 17:43. Tom Kuhhackl won the forecheck and fed Nelson, who did well to avoid a Casey DeSmith pokecheck attempt and slip it through the goalie’s legs. Scott Mayfield’s work on the PK in his own zone earned him his 11th assist on the goal.
They should have reached the intermission still tied 1-1, but Casey Cizikas wiped out trying to disrupt a rush in the neutral zone and Letang was left open for a full windup from the center of the blueline with 29 seconds to go. Thomas Greiss maybe should have had it, but then Johnny Boychuk screened Greiss enough to delay the German’s reaction.
Second Period: That’ll do it
The second period was all Penguins, with the help of another poor early power play for the Isles, and a Penguins conversion on their only PP opportunity.
Before that, Riley Sheahan batted the puck out of the air to make it 3-1.
The fourth goal, on the power play, was cruel and unusual punishment for Greiss. After the Penguins worked the puck around the perimeter to draw the Isles out, Greiss gamely pushed off left to right and right to left and back in his crease as the puck was passed — and took one bad bounce — across the top of the crease. Phil Kessel had an easy tap-in. Greiss truly “never had a chance on that, Howie.”
Kessel scored again five minutes later, again from Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel, though this time at even strength. That sent the teams to intermission with Pittsburgh leading 5-1.
The Isles were outshot 13-4 in the period.
Third Period: Mopping up
The Islanders got one goal back early in the third period, a nice Anders Lee backhand after the captain intercepted a Ryan Pulock drive, leaving DeSmith to anticipate a deflection instead.
The lopsided score gave the Isles a chance to get Christopher Gibson some work and Greiss some rest, and the Last Remnant of the Grabner Trade stopped six of seven shots in mop-up duty. The one he didn’t stop was a memorable one, an impossible angle shot from the goal line corner by Crosby, finding the one postage stamp spot over Gibson’s shoulder that was available.
The third was also a chance to end the Bailey-Filppula-Komarov experiment after just two periods, as Barry Trotz moved Bailey back to the Beavuillier-Barzal line and put Kuhnhackl back with those fellow summer grinder signings.
The result ties the Penguins with the Islanders on points (29) and knocks the Isles out of playoff position for the first time in a while. It also, along with some bad blood in the third period, sets up another meeting on Monday at the Coliseum.
In between, the Islanders will first visit Detroit to face the Red Wings, who were in Toronto tonight to beat the Leafs in overtime.