The New York Islanders accomplished all they set out to do on Wednesday night at the Nassau Coliseum: they beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 in a shootout, ended Sidney Crosby’s 25-game point scoring streak and played their best overall defensive game of the season.
Goalie Rick DiPietro made 37 saves to earn the win. DP clinched the victory when he stopped Mark Letestu in the fourth round of the shootout. The Islanders good defense as a team, with forwards coming back to pick up opposing players on the rush, defensemen making smart plays to clear the zone and the team blocking 28 shots in the game to just six for the Penguins.
“It wasn’t me. It was a complete team effort,” DiPietro said. “It’s a defensive core that played with a lot of focus and a lot of heart tonight and the offense chipped in. I have said it since the start of the year, but when we are playing smart in our defensive zone and we aren’t running around making stupid mistakes at our blue line, we are a good hockey team.”
This was the Islanders first game since trading defenseman James Wisniewski to Montreal. Wisniewski was seeing the most ice time of all Islanders blueliners. Tonight, the young duo of Andrew MacDonald and Travis Hamonic stepped up, with MacDonald leading all Isles players with 27:44 minutes and five blocked shots while Hamonic played 25:08 and added three hits and a pair of blocked shots.
Isles’ Coach Jack Capuano was also pleased with his team’s overall defensive play. “I think all six guys on the blue line played well,” Capuano said. “You have to give credit to our defense tonight because I thought the gap was good, their sticks were good and they defended real well.”
Crosby was limited to just two shots on goal in the game and finished with a minus-one rating. He was disappointed by the end of the streak. “It would have been nice to keep it going, but it was just one of those games: low scoring. Both goalies played well. There were chances to be had, but they didn’t go in.”
After a scoreless first period, the Islanders broke on top when Josh Bailey put home a rebound of a Hamonic shot just 34 seconds into the second period.
“We had a good breakout, I got it in, and Hammer [Hamonic] got it at the point,” Bailey said. “I just went to the net and caused a screen and sometimes those rebounds come to you and sometimes they don’t. I was pretty happy to see that rebound come to me and I just got lucky and put it in the back of the net.”
The Penguins tied the game with 3:27 left in the second on Chris Connor’s 4th goal of the season. DiPietro had trouble holding a shot by Tyler Kennedy and Connor pounced on the rebound and put it home.
Pittsburgh’s best chance to take the lead came with 7:01 left in the third period when Kris Letang was awarded a penalty shot when an Isles defender was called for closing his hand on the puck in the crease. Letang’s backhander went wide of the net and the game remained even at 1-1.
The Isles took a too many men on the ice penalty with 1:14 left in overtime, but the Penguins were unable to convert on the 4-on-3 power play and the game went to a shootout.
Rob Schremp and Frans Nielsen scored for the Isles in the first three rounds of the shootout but Letang and Evgeni Malkin answered back for the Penguins. Then P.A. Parenteau tallied again for the Isles on a wrist shot before DiPietro denied Letestu to seal the victory for the home team.
The Islanders think this win, which leaves them 5-1-1 in their last seven games, gives the team a big lift. “It’s big for us,” Bailey added. “That’s a great team over there. It’s good for the confidence to bounce back after the tough game we just had.”
The Isles return to action Friday night when they travel to Detroit to face the Red Wings.
Evgeni Malkin had a personal 14-game point streak against the Islanders snapped tonight.
Radek Martinek was the Islanders scratch while Ben Lovejoy and Eric Godard were scratched for the Penguins.
Tonight’s starting goalies, Rick DiPietro and Marc-Andre Fleury, are the only two netminders to be selected first overall in the history of the NHL Entry Draft.