One bad period is all it takes to lose sometimes, and another slow start is what sunk the Islanders tonight. Less than 5 minutes in, the Islanders were already down by 1, and had luck not gone their way, they would’ve been down 3 by the end of the first period. A very rare Matt Martin power play goal made it close, but despite playing better hockey overall, the goals just weren’t coming for an Isles team that hasn’t looked right since the losses of Anders Lee and Noah Dobson.
Ross Johnston, inserted in the lineup instead of Kieffer Bellows, took a penalty 3 minutes into the game for slashing. On that power play, Anthony Angello scored off a good feed from John Marino to make it 1-0 Penguins.
Semyon Varlamov kept it from being 2-0 with a good save on Evan Rodrigues, and Leo Komarov took a hooking penalty on Cody Ceci. However on that power play, Kris Letang took exception to a strong clearing attempt from Casey Cizikas and tried to rip his helmet off (!) which resulted in a two minute minor for him.
On that 4 on 4, though, the Islanders would make a pretty terrible change, which gave the Penguins all kinds of time and space, and Jared McCann made it 2-0. Following that, Sidney Crosby hit the crossbar, mercifully keeping the Pens just two goals ahead.
Surprisingly, Casey DeSmith came in for Tristan Jarry, who left the game for unknown reasons.
The Isles nearly cut the lead in half when Oliver Wahlstrom set up JG Pageau in front, but DeSmith made the save. Pageau was called for tripping after getting tangled with Ceci while battling for that puck. Fortunately, noted goon Kris Letang took another penalty, this time for tripping Cizikas, to make it a 4 on 4, and the Isles were able to avoid a bad momentum swing.
Jordan Eberle drew a penalty on Jake Guentzel for holding, and Matt Martin, filling in for Lee on the power play, got his second-ever power play goal, first since 2012-13, on a tip in from a Mat Barzal shot.
The Isles nearly gave the Penguins a two goal lead again when Bryan Rust was able to cut in, but Varlamov made the save on him. Matt Martin nearly beat DeSmith again, but just narrowly missed.
Oliver Wahlstrom went one on one with Mike Matheson and drew a holding penalty, giving the Isles a divided power play with just 30 seconds left in the second.
The Isles couldn’t score on that man advantage, and the best opportunities came from Casey Cizikas doing his best to try to tie the game.
Eventually, the Isles pulled Varlamov for the extra skater, but couldn’t really get enough going to look super threatening, and ultimately fell 2-1, dropping 6 of the 8 games against Pittsburgh in the season series.
- This team has always struggled with injuries due to depth issues - each guy plays their role, and any deviation from that has had bad effects for the team. But it’s especially noticeable when Trotz is putting in both Leo Komarov, who, I reiterate, is the hockey equivalent of the boat (formerly) stuck in the Suez Canal, on the top line, and putting Ross Johnston in on the third line. Those guys can’t play, and they make the team worse.
- I think it’s clear that there’s going to need to be a defensive rotation when Dobson comes back. Scott Mayfield and Andy Greene have struggled this season, and we’ve seen that both Thomas Hickey and Sebastian Aho are capable of filling in for small stretches. No need to overwork any of these guys with diminishing results.
- It would’ve been nice if Nelson could help pick up the slack in these games without Lee, but in those 9 games, Brock’s put up just 4 points. Gonna need more from him in games where Barzal can’t be at his best.
Next, we’re finally free of the Penguins for the rest of the season. The Islanders head home to play the Capitals on April 1st. The Isles have struggled against the Caps, too, so now would be a good time to break that trend.