The New York Islanders had been officially eliminated from playoff contention with their loss to the Flyers on Sunday night while the Pittsburgh Penguins were just one point out of first place in the Eastern Conference. So which team came ready to play on Monday night at the Nassau Coliseum? It was the Islanders, who played strong team defense, got timely scoring from three lines and solid goaltending from Wade Dubielewicz in defeating the Penguins 4-1. Pittsburgh may have been looking ahead to Tuesday night’s game against the second place New Jersey Devils.
“The work ethic was not there,” said Pens’ coach Michel Therrien. “They worked harder than us. It’s pretty simple. That’s why they won. It was an emotional game last game (a win over the Devils). Maybe that was one of the reasons why we were flat. It’s unacceptable. Excuses are for losers.”
The Penguins actually played well during the first half of the first period, taking the play to the Islanders. In the first seven minutes of the game, Pittsburgh was outshooting New York, 7-2. After that, the Pens seemed to lose control of the game and started to lose battles for loose pucks. By the end of the first stanza, both teams had 12 shots on net.
The Islanders scored first on a shorthanded goal by Richard Park 3:22 into the game. Rookie Kyle Okposo stole the puck from Sergei Gonchar at the point and then threw a pretty cross ice pass to Park heading down the right wing. Park let a slap shot go from between the circles and beat Ty Conklin to wake up the sellout crowd of 16,234.
The Penguins countered quickly, scoring on the same power play just 36 seconds later. Petr Sykora let go a wrist shot that beat Dubielewicz from the right circle and went in just under the cross bar. Initially, the referee waived his arms to signal no goal but the replay clearly showed the puck was in the net and the game was tied 1-1.
Josef Vasicek made a pretty play to set up Bill Guerin’s goal at the 11:45 mark of the second period. Vasicek penetrated the Pittsburgh zone and drew both defenders towards him before sending a blind backhand pass to Guerin. The Islanders’ captain skated between the circles and let a snap shot go that beat Conklin high to the glove side just inside the post.
“He [Vasicek] drew everybody to him and then the puck was right on my stick so all I had to worry about was shooting,” Guerin said.
The Islanders’ beleaguered power play made it 3-1 on a goal by Sean Bergenheim with just 5:07 left in the second period. The Islanders dominated the second period and outshot Pittsburgh 14-3.
Trent Hunter stuffed home the final goal of the game in the third period to ice the win for the Islanders. Miro Satan carried the puck down the right side and shot the puck wide. Satan followed the puck behind the goal and sent a pass right through the crease to Hunter who stuffed it into the open side of the net.
Top to bottom, the Islanders played a strong game. They controlled rebounds and prevented the Penguins from getting second and third chances on Dubielewicz. Ted Nolan also made adjustments in his team’s back-checking and defensive scheme which helped make things easier for his young team.
Dubielewicz, who made 28 saves to improve to 8-7-0 on the season, was quick to praise the work of his teammates. “I gave up 15 rebounds tonight and I didn’t pay for any one of them. We cleared the crease pretty well, making my job much easier.”
Ted Nolan was pleased with his team’s performance. “It’s been tough lately, but one thing we can control is our effort and the way we perform,” Nolan said. “Tonight I thought it was a good team effort. Pittsburgh really took it to us physically in the first, but it was a good sign that we answered back physically in the second. Dubielewicz had a great game.”
“We have a lot of new guys, but we’re starting to get it,” said Bergenheim. “The new guys are learning the system and it feels better out there now than it did for a while.”
The Islanders outworked the more talented Penguins and came away with a win. Their next game will be Thursday night in Pittsburgh.
Center Mike Comrie was a late scratch due to a bout with the flu. Comrie had played in all of the Islanders’ first 76 games this season. Tim Jackman was called up from Bridgeport to take Comrie’s spot on the roster.
Wade Dubielewicz is now 3-0-0 against the Penguins in his career.
Isles’ defenseman Matthew Spiller got his first assist of the season and the second of his NHL career. Spiller had previously played 59 games over parts of two seasons with the Phoenix Coyotes.
Sidney Crosby was held out of the lineup for Pittsburgh. Crosby is still recovering from his ankle injury. He is said to be very close to returning and may be in actions when the Pens take on the second place Devils Tuesday night in New Jersey.