The New York Islanders jumped to an early 2-0 lead, but were outworked and outplayed by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second half of the game which the Pens won 6-3. James Neal scored twice to lead the Pittsburgh attack while Marc-Andre Fleury made 24 saves to earn the victory. A total of six different Penguins finished the game with two points including Neal, Matt Niskanen, Chris Kunitz, Steve Sullivan, Tyler Kennedy and Evgeni Malkin.
“We were up 2-0 and we thought it was going to be an easy game,” Isles captain Mark Streit admitted. “Those guys are missing some key players and they completely outworked us.”
The turning point of the game came at the 7:35 mark of the second period with the Isles ahead 3-2. Travis Hamonic was given a 5:00 major for elbowing and a game misconduct after making contact along the near boards with Brooks Orpik. The Penguins tied the game on the ensuing power play and took control of the contest after that. Replays of the incident indicated that Hamonic did not hit Orpik with his elbow and that blood was drawn when the Penguins defenseman was hit in the face by his own stick.
“It was probably a play I would not even get credit for a hit,” Hamonic said after the game. “I made minimal contact with the opposing player. He hits himself in the forehead with his own stick, he goes down, he’s bleeding and next thing you know five minute major and you’re kicked out of the game…In my opinion it was a terrible call. I didn’t hit him, it wasn’t a head check. That’s not my style of play. My style is not to go after anyone’s head and I didn’t in any sort of way…I kept my elbows down [and] hit him right in the stomach. He follows through with his own stick and hits himself in the forehead…It’s very frustrating.”
“The game really seemed to change after that call,” Isles Coach Jack Capuano said. “I thought we were playing pretty good up until that point…After that, we were on our heels the rest of the night and we couldn’t respond.”
The Islanders grabbed an early 2-0 lead on an even strength tally by David Ullstrom and a power play blast from defenseman Milan Jurcina. The Isles controlled the tempo early and kept the Penguins from registering their firest shot on goal until the game was nearly seven minutes old.
Sullivan’s goal with 5:32 left in the opening period got the Penguins to within a goal. Then, a costly giveaway by Hamonic behind his own net led to Neal’s first goal of the game with less than 30 seconds left in the period and tied the game at 2-2.
Kyle Okposo’s 4th goal of the year gave the Isles back the lead at 2:54 of the second period before Hamonic’s ejection and Neal’s second goal of the night which came on the ensuing 5-on-3 power play tied the score at 3-3.
The Islanders managed to kill off the remaining 3:51 of the major against Hamonic but never regained their early game form. Pascal Dupuis scored the eventual game winner with 4:02 left in the second period on a wrist shot from between the circles that gave the Pens a 4-3 lead after 40 minutes of play.
The Islanders came out flat in the third period and despite being down by only one goal and having 6:00 with the man advantage, managed only four shots on goal in the final 20 minutes. Matt Cooke extended the Pens lead to 5-3 just 1:04 into the final period while Paul Martin added the final goal on a play that saw the puck deflect in off a defenseman’s skate and Isles goalie Al Montoya’s arm before crossing the goal line.
While he wasn’t pleased with the call against Hamonic, Capuano didn’t blame the call for his club’s defeat. “They had some key guys out of their lineup, but they worked harder than us,” he explained. “They got a victory tonight because we were second to all loose pucks, we didn’t win puck battles and we didn’t deserve to win that game. I give them credit. They won the battles, they won the territorial battle and we just turned too many pucks over.”
The Penguins also did a good job of shutting down the Islanders top scorers, holding Matt Moulson without a shot on net and limiting John Tavares to just one. The Islanders also turned the puck over too often in their own zone and had trouble making the transition to offense, especially in the second half of the game.
The loss ended a six game streak in which the Isles had picked up at least one p0int (4-0-2). They return to action Tuesday night when the travel to Montreal to take on the Canadiens. The Penguins next game will be Tuesday night when the host the Detroit Red Wings.
The Pens were without both Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal. Michael Haley was a healthy scratch for the Islanders while Nino Niederreiter remains day-to-day with concussion-like symptoms.
The Islanders are now 0-3-1 in four games against the Penguins this season. The teams will not meet again until March 27th.