“Round Five, coming up next!” — Brendan Burke on Isles MSG Network pre-game show.
It has been talked to death that this isn’t a normal NHL season. This is a 56-game campaign where every game is magnified and instead of playing every team in the league, you only play the teams within your division. Oh and you play those teams eight times apiece. But who in the world thought pitting teams against each other six times in a single month was a good idea?
Saturday night, inside Nassau Coliseum, the Islanders and Penguins faced off for the fifth time in the month of February (Game Six will take place Sunday at 5pm). But to get to Game Six, you first need to play Game Five and in the fifth game (or round if you prefer) the Islanders lost to the Penguins by a score of 4-3 in overtime on Kris Letang’s second goal of the game.
How did Round Five unfurl?
Well, the game opened hot for the Islanders, who had a flurry of chances their first few shifts on the ice. Tristan Jarry, who gave the Isles fits last week in going 2-0-0 against New York, was up to the task early and often. In their two previous meetings, Jarry totaled 64 saves on 67 shots. And early on in this one, he looked like he would continue his stingy ways.
Of course, Jarry had help from his teammates, who held the Isles to a fairly reasonable nine shots on goal in the opening period. The Nassaumen did themselves no favors though by giving Pittsburgh two power-play opportunities in the first 16-minutes of the period.
One of those penalties occurred when Mathew Barzal high-sticked Evgeni Malkin and that’s notable because Barzal has been racking up more than his fair share of penalties this season; something Head Coach Barry Trotz has not been too pleased with.
Barzal’s teammates picked him up by killing off the Penguins’ power-play, allowing zero shots on goal. And when Adam Pelech was called for holding Kasperi Kapanen roughly 10-minutes later, the Boys from Long Island picked him up as well; however, they did allow Pittsburgh to gain a little momentum by generating four shots on goal.
Speaking of special teams play, 30-seconds after killing off Pelech’s penalty, Cody Ceci was sent to the box for interfering with Anders Lee to send the Isles to their first power-play of the game. The Nassaumen entered the game 11-for-47 on the power-play this season and they promptly improved that mark to 12-for-48 thanks to Brock Nelson’s goal 33-seconds into the man-advantage.
Nelson, who has been “Mr. Power-Play” for the Isles this season, from the top of the crease, redirected an Oliver Wahlstrom pass over Jarry’s glove for the 1-0 Islanders lead. And, of note, J.G. Pageau showed remarkable poise by letting Wahlstrom’s pass go through to Nelson as Pageau easily could have attempted the tap-in himself from his position just a few feet away from Nelson.
The power-play goal gave the Isles momentum heading into the first intermission and they carried that into the second period as Barzal got them off to a fast start. 1:34 into the middle period, Anders Lee carried the puck into the Penguins’ zone and dished it to Barzal, who circled around before skating down toward the goal-line and released a wrist-shot from the sharp angle that knuckled — it looked like it went off John Marino’s stick — and squeaked between Jarry and the near post for the 2-0 Islanders lead.
However, that’s when the Isles momentum came to a halt.
Just 43-seconds after Barzal’s goal, with the Penguins on yet another power-play — this time Oliver Wahlstrom was in the box for boarding Teddy Blueger — Sidney Crosby scored possibly the easiest goal of his career when Semyon Varlamov lost an edge and fell backwards, granting Crosby an empty net to shoot at. And he didn’t miss. 2-1 Islanders.
Then, just 26-seconds later, Kris Letang received a pass from Kapanen, who was below the goal-line. Letang took a shot from the right face-off dot and simply beat Varlamov blocker side to tie the game at 2.
Varlamov looked like he was having some trouble moving after his tumble on Crosby’s power-play goal and that may have been a factor on Letang’s score.
With the game now 2-2 and the Isles momentum now firmly squashed by the Penguins, the second period became the Penguins Show for a solid stretch of time.
It took until Josh Bailey’s goal at 14:51 of the period to finally steady the Isles’ ship. Brock Nelson, at the point, sent a pass down to Anthony Beauvillier, who quickly passed the puck to Bailey, who was just below the hash marks. Bailey wasted no time in firing the puck over Jarry’s glove to retake the lead for the Islanders — 3-2.
That was the last goal the Nassaumen would score as Jared McCann scored 18-seconds into the third period to knot the score at 3. A turnover by the Islanders allowed Malkin to fly into their zone and as he drew all the attention, McCann skated down the slot essentially untouched. Malkin whizzed a pass to McCann, who used a quick release to beat Varlamov blocker side for the game-tying goal — 3-3.
The Boys from Long Island were outshot 11-6 in the third period, yet they somehow managed to keep Pittsburgh off the board through the end of regulation to force overtime and secure at least one point in the standings.
Head Coach Barry Trotz summed it up thusly after the game: “You just collect points and at the end of the day, you hope you have enough. That’s plain and simple. We can’t dwell on it too much.”
Overtime was a wide-open affair as both teams had their share of odd-man rushes but nary a goal was scored. That is, until Kris Letang took advantage of J.G. Pageau’s solid positioning with 26-seconds left in the extra period to score his second goal of the game; this one the game-winning goal — 4-3 Penguins.
Letang carried the puck from his own zone, after a pass from Crosby, all the way into the Isles’ zone and fired a shot through Pageau. The puck deflected off Pageau’s stick and through his legs before knuckling Varlamov’s blocker for the game-ender.
In five meetings this month, the Islanders are now 1-2-2 against the Penguins with Game number Six coming up Sunday afternoon at 5pm. Should be interesting. And it’s worth keeping an eye on the Isles’ goalie decisions. It’s almost certain (with Barry Trotz you never can tell for sure) Ilya Sorokin will get the start. And then the Nassaumen will have a couple days before they play the Devils on Tuesday to evaluate if everything is alright with Varlamov, who never looked quite right after his second period tumble.
The Isles went 1-for-1 on the power-play to fall to 12-for-48 on the season…Oliver Wahlstrom’s first period assist on Brock Nelson’s power-play goal extended his points streak to three-straight games…Michael Dal Colle returned from IR to play 10:00…Cal Clutterbuck was a scratch after being injured against Boston…Happy Birthday to Casey Cizikas who turned 30-years-old today…
Sunday February 28th Islanders vs. Penguins at Nassau Coliseum at 5pm(EST).