Give the man his due. Sidney Crosby, love him or hate him — and Islanders fans certainly don’t love him — is one of the best of his generation.
Saturday night in Pittsburgh, at PPG Paints Arena, the Islanders and Penguins battled for the fourth time THIS MONTH while celebrating “Sid The Kid’s” 1,000th career NHL regular-season game. While the Isles wanted no part of the Penguins’ captain’s milestone, they were unable to avoid a 3-2 loss to Crosby and company as the Man of The Hour had two key assists to fuel his team.
The first period opened fast and furious with chances galore for the Islanders. This was a team looking to avenge its previous loss and had learned from its mistakes.
On Thursday night, the Boys from Long Island allowed themselves to be forced to the outside and nary attempted to drive to the middle of the ice for high-danger scoring chances. But on Saturday night, the Nassaumen routinely drove to the middle of the ice and got creative in putting shots on goal from various closeup angles.
Of course, this change in strategy didn’t result in any goals early on, however, it did force both teams to play at a frenetic pace for minutes on end. The only interruptions were for standard hockey calls: offside, icing, etc.
Actually, that last statement isn’t entirely true as Crosby inadvertently — come on, there’s no way he did it on purpose — clipped referee Furman South behind the Penguins’ net to force a momentary stoppage in play as South was checked out. (South stayed in the game).
After the momentary stoppage, the Isles went back to work trying to get the puck past Tristian Jarry, unfortunately for the Islanders, Jarry was in the zone. His stop on an early Leo Komarov backhand, which was a quality scoring chance, was a portent of things to come as Jarry gave the Isles fits all night long.
Semyon Varlamov was up to the task early as he matched Jarry’s puckstopping ways. Not even a triple deflection could fool the Isles’ Vezina-caliber goaltender.
The game didn’t quite dissolve into a track meet but it was certainly a wide open affair throughout the first period. And while there were no goals scored in the opening period, there were some highlights nonetheless. For example, Mathew Barzal sent Evgeni Malkin to the dressing room late in the period with his patented ankle-breaking skating.
The Boys from Long Island continued to keep the pressure on Jarry but none of their 16 shots in the period beat the Penguins netminder.
Malkin didn’t come out to start the second period, although he eventually rejoined the team after a few minutes of play.
The pace of play, while not quite the same as in the opening period, was still plenty fast as Oliver Wahlstrom really shined on several shifts throughout the game — and especially the second period. But the Puck Wizard could not get one past Jarry, who had the help of his goalposts on more than one occasion.
Of course, the goalposts helped out Varlamov too, even if he preferred to make the saves himself for the most part.
Eventually, 12:35 into the second period, Pittsburgh made the Isles pay on their lone power-play of the game — courtesy of Anthony Beauvillier being called for hooking Jason Zucker.
Just 12 seconds into Pittsburgh’s power-play, Kris Letang scored on a blast from above the left face-off circle on a play set up by…who else? Malkin and Crosby.
The Boys from Long Island didn’t let Letang’s goal dampen their resolve and continued to push forward; they just couldn’t finish their chances, until…
2:53 after the Pens scored, Beauvillier atoned for his hooking penalty by setting up Jordan Eberle’s beauty of a goal. Beauvillier, from the Pens’ goal-line, connected with Eberle as Number 7 was streaking to the Penguins net and Eberle waited out a Jarry poke-check before using his lethal backhand to shoot the puck into the net for the game-tying goal.
The second period ended with the score tied at 1 and the Nassaumen outshooting the Penguins 26-12.
That momentum carried into the third period for New York as Brock Nelson scored his first non-power-play goal of the season just 53 seconds into the final period to give the visitors their first lead of the night.
Scott Mayfield made a nifty play to knock the puck down on a Pittsburgh clearing attempt and got the puck to Nelson, who fired a wrist-shot on goal from just inside the blue-line and lo and behold, it found the back of Pittsburgh’s net. Sometimes it really is that simple.
The Isles lead lasted until the 7:35 mark of the third period as some defensive sloppiness allowed Public Enemy Number One, Mike Matheson, to waltz right into the middle of the ice — from in between the hash marks — and snipe the puck past Varlamov’s blocker side to tie the game at 2.
While the Nassaumen clearly wanted to take back the lead, they could not as their lack of finishing, plus their inability to win key face-offs slowed their earlier pace.
Eventually, 5:59 after Matheson’s goal, Crosby once more set up a Letang blast, who was now stationed at the point, for the tie-breaking goal. 3-2 Penguins with just 6:26 to play.
New York did get a power-play 34 seconds later when Zucker hooked Nelson, but the Isles power-play failed to come through when they needed it most to fall to 10-for-43 on the season when having a man-advantage.
That was the Islanders’ last gasp as they were unable to create the game-tying goal and were sent packing from Pittsburgh; unable to collect any points during their two-game visit to the Steel City.
After the game Barry Trotz summed it up like this: “Life isn’t fair sometimes.”
The Boys from Long Island now head home and will play nine of their next 10 games on Long Island.
The Isles went 0-for-1 on the power-play to fall to 10-for-43 on the season…The Isles registered a season-high 53 hits against the Penguins in this contest (I told you these teams don’t like each other)…Nine of the Isles next 10 games will be played at Nassau Coliseum.
Monday February 22nd Islanders vs. Sabres at Nassau Coliseum at 7pm(EST).