Heading into overtime Friday against the New York Islanders, the Penguins had sputtered to a 3-for-27 record on the power play in this young season – converting only 11.1 percent of the time.
After Pittsburgh tallied two second-period goals within 2:50 of one another, the resilient Isles stormed back to score two of their own within a span of 1:48 later in the frame. But New York gave the Penguins every opportunity to take control of the contest with seven power play opportunities, including two bench penalties for too many men on the ice. Pittsburgh, despite being loaded with offensive talent the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, squandered all seven, including more than a minute of 5-on-3 time.
But the Penguins were about to show some resilience of their own when they got another opportunity less than a minute into overtime, when Milan Jurcina headed to the box for hooking. Midway through that final power play chance, defenseman Alex Goligoski found the net to give his club a 3-2 win, Pittsburgh’s first in the regular season at CONSOL Energy Center.
“I think there was a bit of frustration after the 5-on-3 that we did not score [on], and the talk in the dressing room in between periods was, we’re going to get another chance, it’s about the next one,” said head coach Dan Bylsma.
“And when we got that power play in overtime, that’s how they felt going on the ice; this was their chance. We did it with a shooter’s mentality, net-front presence, and our guy going to the net gets the rebound and a goal.”
That shooter’s mentality was something that had been missing from the Penguins’ power play for most of the night, as they frequently passed up shots in favor of getting too fancy with one pass too many. On the goal, it was Malkin – who’s shooting more than just about anyone in the league so far – who took the initial shot that Goligoski buried. Crosby notched the other assist.
“We were moving around pretty quick, got a few good shots there to start it, and probably tired them out a little bit,” Goligoski said. “Just a rebound that popped out, and I just tried to get it back on net as quick as I could before the goalie got across.”
Before the power play found its groove, the Penguins’ other special team shined as the penalty kill shut down all but one of six Islanders chances with the man-advantage.
And Pittsburgh did it shorthanded by a man, as defenseman Kris Letang was bounced early in the second period for an illegal check to the head on Blake Comeau, a hit that replays later showed to be shoulder-to-shoulder.
“The penalty kill was exceptional when it needed to be. It was put under the gun there, we were short-staffed on defensemen, and our guys all had to step up back there,” Bylsma said. “I thought Deryk Engelland played especially well. Paul Martin, Alex Goligoski, Ben Lovejoy all stepped in there, had to make big plays, and did a real good job of winning battles and getting pucks down the ice for us. They allowed us to get that game to overtime and a chance to win it.”
The Penguins were disappointed about the call that earned Letang a five-minute major and game misconduct, but understood the officials erring on the side of Comeau’s safety under the new head shot rule.
“The referee is in a situation where he has to make a split-second decision on the ice, and [he] made a decision about protecting a player,” said Bylsma.
“It’s a judgment,” Letang said. “Obviously everybody’s going to look at it, but it’s a play that I need to step up; otherwise, he’s going to be by himself in the slot with a great scoring chance. So I’m stepping up for the puck and I’m hitting him on the shoulder.”
The Penguins’ first home win also featured another first as rookie winger Eric Tangradi found the net for his first NHL goal.
“I think it’s kind of neat and suiting that my first goal was assisted by Mark [Letestu] and Deryk [Engelland],” Tangradi said. “We played in Wilkes-Barre last year, and it’s a neat experience for all of us to be here right now.”
Bylsma wouldn’t say if he would return to backup goaltender Brent Johnson, who has both of the Penguins’ wins so far, Saturday in Philadelphia, or whether starter Marc-Andre Fleury would get the nod.
For now, though, Pittsburgh is just happy to stop wondering when it will get its first win on its new home ice.
“Definitely nice to stop answering questions about the first win here,” Goligoski said. “Just a relief to win one.”