Hockey

NY ISLANDERS: On 10-Year Anniversary of “Fight Night” Islanders and Penguins Reconvene for Round Two of Eight in 2021; Islanders Fall 4-3 in Shootout Thursday Night at Nassau Coliseum By Matt Blittner, The New York Extra/TheNYExtra.com

Let’s Get Ready To Rumble!” — Michael Buffer

Islanders fans, where were you 10-years ago on the night of February 11, 2011? 

Well, chances are you were watching in some capacity as the Islanders hosted the Penguins in a game at Nassau Coliseum that has since been dubbed, “Fight Night” for its infamous brawls; during which the teams combined for an astounding 346 penalty minutes (including 15 fighting majors, 21 game misconducts and 65 penalties in total). 

(Here are two tweets, one from the @IslesMSGN Twitter account and one from @RTaub_ regarding that game) 

The Boys from Long Island defended their home ice in a 9-3 victory that night and 10-years later — Thursday February 11, 2021 — they unfortunately failed to replicate the feat by falling to the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 in a shootout at Nassau Coliseum.

That infamous night was 10-years ago and yet, to this day, there are still several players remaining from both teams who managed to have an impact on Thursday night.   

On the Islanders’ side of things, Matt Martin — who could likely run for political office and win on Long Island — and Josh Bailey remain with the team after all these years. And Martin in particular has been impressive of late as part of the Isles’ “Identity” or “Energy” Line.

For the Penguins, Kris Letang, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin all remain from that 2010-11 season; although, only Letang played in the “Fight Night” game. (Crosby and Malkin missed the infamous game with a concussion and torn knee ligaments respectively). Crosby and Malkin would heavily factor in the outcome this time.

The NHL has drastically changed since 2011 and here in 2021 fights are far rarer, although that didn’t stop the Isles and Penguins from competing in a highly charged, tightly contested affair.

The first period began with both teams far more energized than they were at the start of their previous encounter this season — a 4-3 Islanders win last Saturday night at Nassau Coliseum.

Just 5:39 into the game the Nassaumen jumped out to an early lead thanks to a highlight reel goal by Casey Cizikas, who did his best Alex Ovechkin impression by scoring while falling to the ice and sliding to the right of Penguins’ netminder Casey DeSmith. (The two goals aren’t exactly the same, but you get the idea. A link to Ovechkin’s goal is embedded in his name). 

(Here’s Cizikas’ goal):

Cizikas’ goal jump-started the Islanders as they landed the first blow, but 6:08 after his goal, Pittsburgh’s Bryan Rust scored off a pretty passing play that was started by none other than Sidney Crosby. Crosby held the puck along the nearboard and passed it cross-ice to Jake Guentzel, who spied Rust at the top of the crease and sent the puck his way; leaving Rust with an easy tap-in goal to tie the game at 1. 

The Penguins had fought back to tie the scorecard, but it wasn’t long before the Boys from Long Island jumped back out in front with a power-play goal courtesy of J.G. Pageau. 

Coming into the game, the Isles had been 6-for-33 on the power-play this season. But don’t tell that to Pageau, who himself had gone eight-straight games without a goal. 4:53 after Rust’s goal, with the Islanders on the power-play, Josh Bailey and Nick Leddy played catch with the puck before Leddy fired a shot on goal from the point. Pageau just got a piece of Leddy’s shot and deflected the puck past DeSmith for the 2-1 Islanders lead. And the home team held that advantage going into the first intermission. 

The teams came out for the second period and Semyon Varlamov was forced to make a couple of early saves on the Sidney Crosby Line as the Penguins’ captain and company were pushing hard for the tying-goal. 

They didn’t get it then, but they did get it a few moments later at the 7:02 mark of the period as Zach Aston-Reese, in his season-debut — he was returning from shoulder surgery — scored on a backhand, second-chance wraparound goal after winning the puck from Noah Dobson and Matt Martin behind the Isles’ net to tie the game at 2.

At 8:43 of the second, Jordan Eberle was called for playing the puck with a broken stick and sent Pittsburgh to their first power-play of the night. Pageau played some excellent defense in his own zone and created a short-handed breakaway for himself but failed to score. However, it did help the Islanders kill off the penalty, so it still counts as a highlight in my book.

Neither team could muster a goal through the rest of the period, however there was a scary moment for the Islanders late in the period as Cal Clutterbuck went hard into the boards and had to briefly leave the game as he appeared to injure his shoulder.

Then came the third period and both teams hunkered down as the ice became even more tightly contested. The good news for the Boys from Long Island was that Clutterbuck was back in the game and appeared no worse for wear.

The game remained tied as the third period wore on, however, at 13:35, Mathew Barzal, who nearly had a dandy goal early in the period, decided to go full human highlight reel on Penguins’ rookie Pierre-Olivier Joseph as he turned the rookie inside-out and poked the puck over the glove of DeSmith; giving the Islanders a 3-2 lead.

“I thought when he’s driving to the net, he’s dangerous,” said Barry Trotz. “He had another look in the overtime he took to the net. That’s how you score goals, you take it to the hard areas… He was really solid, a really solid two-way game today.”

For a few minutes it appeared Barzal’s nifty goal would stand as the game-winner, but with the Penguins’ net empty for an extra attacker, Evgeni Malkin connected on a last second gut punch to tie the game from long range with 18-seconds to go to force overtime. 

The Isles and Penguins headed to overtime and for the most part, the Nassaumen controlled the puck; forcing DeSmith to make five saves during the five-minute extra period. A goal wasn’t in the cards for the home team though so a skills contest — aka the shootout — was deemed the best way to determine a winner.

“You collect points in this league,” said Trotz. “Every night, if you can get a point, it’s huge. We’ll take points every night and we’ll be in good shape, I guarantee that.”

It was the Islanders’ first foray into the shootout this year, but DeSmith stopped Jordan Eberle, Mathew Barzal and Josh Bailey in succession to keep them off the board. Meanwhile, Varlamov stopped Jake Guentzel before giving up a patented backhand goal to Sidney Crosby for what ended up as Pittsburgh’s game-winner. 

4-3 Pittsburgh wasn’t how the Islanders wanted this one to end, but the teams will meet again next Thursday and four more total times this month; so there will be ample opportunities to avenge this loss. 

We played a good hockey team,” said Anders Lee after the game. “It’s tight, tight up at the end and we were short on the extra one. Any night you can get one, you can build off that and add it to the point total and all those things. It’s definitely better than zero.”

GAME NOTES:

The Islanders went to the shootout for the first time this season…Mathew Barzal’s goal extended his points-streak to seven-straight games…Barzal also has exactly half of the Islanders’ even-strength goals this season…The Islanders will face the Penguins six times during this month (with two games down and four to go)…The Isles went 1-for-1 on the power-play to improve to 7-for-34 on the man-advantage this season. 

NEXT GAME:

Saturday February 13th Islanders vs. Bruins at Nassau Coliseum at 7pm(EST).

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