The New York Islanders had trouble keeping pace with the Penguins, never fully got to their game, and never erased an early deficit on their way to a 4-1 defeat in the first of a two-game set in Pittsburgh. The loss ended the Isles’ eight-game points streak.
Like most games, a few bounces or friendlier crossbar might have changed the script, but in general the Islanders were chasing too much; the game had much more of the run-and-gun pace that suits the Penguins rather than the careful, smothering structure that fuels Barry Trotz’s soul.
The game wasn’t truly out of reach until midway through the third period, when the Pens made it 3-0. In garbage time there was some bad blood exchanged that could carry over to the second half of this miniseries.
The Islanders had one lineup change, taking Michael Dal Colle out (not sure why) and putting Kieffer Bellows in. That meant we had rookies Bellows and Oliver Walhstrom in the same lineup for just the third time, and the first time since Jan. 30 (which was also Bellows’ last game).
Barry Trotz was...not happy with his decision, and played Bellows only 7:47:
Trotz on Bellows: "He's been in every meeting, every practice so there's no excuses. I won't make any excuses for Kieffer and he won't make any for himself. Dal Colle went in and did a really good job. Wally went in, he's done a really good job. That was Kieffer's opportunity."— Arthur Staple (@StapeAthletic) February 19, 2021
First Period: Icky start
The game began physical and chippy: Lots of board battles, finished checks, and a fight between Casey Cizikas and Brandon Tanev just 2:18 in.
It was also marked by lots of Islanders turnovers, very out of character for the Trotz era. One of the earliest ones cost them, as Brock Nelson was stripped in the low slot in the Islanders zone. Kasperi Kapanen did the heist and turned for a quick shot. It deflected off SIdney Crosby’s blade as he skated by, possibly a key redirection.
Brock Nelson, bb, what is you doin pic.twitter.com/DvlaJUT4aQ— SB Nation NHL (@SBNationNHL) February 19, 2021
They take Dal Colle off that line and Nelson turns back into a pumpkin— jenny berman (@barzalline) February 19, 2021
The Islanders had a few chances late, and a power play that overlapped the intermission (Crosby of course complained to the refs after the buzzer, because of he’s never wrong), but nothing to show for that on either side of the break.
Second Period: Still no progress
The second period started much the same way once the power play expired. The Penguins had more jump and pressure, the Islanders were more one-and-done opportunities.
At the mid-way point the Islanders tempted fate when, already shorthanded, Scott Mayfield made an ill-advised one-handed swing at an airborne puck. He made contact with the puck...but also with Jake Guentzel’s chin.
The Islanders did very well, particularly Semyon Varlamov, to kill the 1:13 of 5-on-3 and the rest of Mayfield’s penalty as well.
They then put together a few odd-man rushes to threaten as the period reached its later minutes. Felt very much like a turning point was imminent. And in a way, it was — just the wrong kind.
The Penguins kept the puck alive again in the Islanders zone, Mike Matheson playing an intentional bounce off the end boards and drawing everyone to the left wing side. Varlamov made an initial save but the rebound caromed to the left side, where Teddy Blueger was all alone with a gaping net in which to deposit the insurance goal.
It was 2-0 headed to the second intermission, with Casey Cizikas in the box for a shady hooking call.
Not including ENGs - #Isles have been outscored 7-2 in final 2 minutes of periods this season. Varly's GAA in last 2 minutes of a pd is well over 4.00 (allowed 5 in 35 periods- just under 70 minutes due to EN)— Eric Hornick (@ehornick) February 19, 2021
Can they rally in 3rd & extend the point streak to 9? MSG+ @islesmsgn
Third Period: Welp
After killing off the rest of the Cizikas penalty, the Islanders had a few chances in the early part of the third, the best one being this for Cal Clutterbuck on a great feed from J-G Pageau, but...damn the crossbar:
HOW does this not go in!?!? pic.twitter.com/01DX75aRYr— Isles on MSG+ (@IslesMSGN) February 19, 2021
There were a few more, and a few remixes to get something going.
Beau-Nelson-Bailey back together in the 3rd. Lee-Barzal-Eberle had the shift prior.— Arthur Staple (@StapeAthletic) February 19, 2021
But at the midway point, things felt over after Jason Zucker finished a pretty three-way passing play from behind the net.
The Penguins are on their game tonight (the isles on the other hand......) pic.twitter.com/G2DtBi7CMp— SB Nation NHL (@SBNationNHL) February 19, 2021
Varlamov didn’t have much of a chance. It was not the Islanders’ night, but that is not on him.
The Islanders got one back after Matheson was penalized after a shove to Barzal’s back at a dangerous distance from the boards. Brock Nelson got the goal; the Islanders would get nothing more but a bit of revenge here and there on Matheson, including a jam to the face by Anders Lee and an attempted fight by Matt Martin.
Matt Martin goes after Matheson for his hit on Barzal pic.twitter.com/McNsRZvsyj— Rob Taub (@RTaub_) February 19, 2021
Evgeni Malkin and Scott Mayfield, who must’ve heard about Malkin’s temperament from Travis Hamonic, also mixed it up and received 10-minute misconducts with 87 seconds left.
The teams meet again on Saturday night.