Hockey

NY ISLANDERS: Penguins, Plus Sloppy Isles Special Teams, Ruin Josh Bailey’s 900th Career game as Islanders Fall 6-3 in Pittsburgh Saturday Night By Matt Blittner, The New York Extra/TheNYExtra.com

First things first, congratulations go out to Josh Bailey on playing in his 900th career regular-season NHL game with the Islanders. Bailey is the fourth player in franchise history to reach the 900 games plateau, behind only: Bryan Trottier, Denis Potvin and Bobby Nystrom. 

That’s the good news. 

Now for the not so good news.

In Saturday night’s 6-3 loss to the Penguins at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, the Isles special teams let them down by allowing two power-play goals in a span of 1:52 early in the second period to effectively put the game out of reach early. And their power-play went 0-for-4 to compound the problem. (The final score is misleading as the entirety of the Islanders offense came during “garbage time” once they were already down 5-0).

But that was far from the only problem for the Islanders as this was a team-wide let down of a game.

The problems started when Oliver Wahlstrom was sent to the penalty box 3:17 into the first period for interfering with Penguins’ goaltender Tristan Jarry. However, in one of the few Islanders bright spots of the night, the Nassaumen not only kept Pittsburgh out of their net, but also held them to zero shots on goal. 

Unfortunately, mere moments after the Penguins’ power-play ended, Sam Lafferty led a two-on-one odd man rush into the Isles zone, fed the puck over to Frederick Gaudreau streaking down the slot and Gaudreau snapped off a wrister that went over Sorokin’s glove for the 1-0 Pittsburgh lead at 5:48 of the first.

Just 4:19 after falling down 1-0, the Islanders defense was used against them as Evan Rodrigues shot the puck from the left face-off circle through a combination of Nick Leddy and Ryan Pulock, as well as Penguins’ teammate, Zach Aston-Reese and past Sorokin’s blocker-side arm for the 2-0 Islanders deficit.

Just like in their previous game against Boston, the Isles found themselves down 2-0 early in the game, but that’s where the comparison of the two games ends. In fact, Pittsburgh’s two goals came on only three total first period shots. (During the first intermission that total was upped to four shots on goal).

A 2-0 deficit after 20 minutes of play isn’t impossible to come back from. But the early second period breakdowns by New York are what sealed the Boys from Long Island’s fate.

Sidney Crosby scored on the power-play 4:26 into the middle period and 1:52 later, Bryan Rust added his own power-play marker to balloon the Islanders’ deficit from 2-0 to 4-0. 

At that point, Isles Head Coach Barry Trotz decided to pull Ilya Sorokin (the first time in Sorokin’s career he’s been pulled) and put in Semyon Varlamov. The four-goals weren’t entirely Sorokin’s fault, but it’s a standard coaching move, so Varlamov’s night off was cut short.

After the first whistle following Varlamov’s entry into the game, Varlamov quickly skated over to the Isles bench to give some brief encouragement to the young Sorokin; which is just another example of the excellent relationship these two have developed.

Just a moment later, once play had resumed, Rust struck again (8:21 of the second) to make it 5-0 Pittsburgh.

This was a wholly uncharacteristic game by the Islanders, however, once they were down 5-0 they managed to at least get a few monkey’s off their backs.

Mathew Barzal, who hadn’t scored a goal in quite a long time, netted his first in 11-games at the 10:47 mark of the second period. Barzal corralled the puck along the near boards in the neutral zone, sped past Kris Letang and ripped a wrist-shot past Jarry’s glove to get New York on the board: 5-1.

On to the third period and Barzal drove hard to the net 5:23 into the period and while the Isles star didn’t manage to beat Jarry, the Penguins’ netminder was unable to hold onto the puck and it landed in the crease. Anthony Beauvillier, swooped in and banged home the loose puck to bring the Islanders within 5-2 and extend his recent hot stretch to four consecutive games with a goal.

Late in the third (17:33 into the period to be exact), with the game essentially over and the Islanders and Penguins skating four-aside — it became a five-on-four for the visitors when Trotz pulled Varlamov for the extra attacker — Jordan Eberle scored on a shot from the slot that made it a 5-3 game with 2:27 to play; not an impossible situation to comeback from, but highly unlikely.

The unlikely comeback did not manifest itself as the Nassaumen’s power-play failed them for the fourth time in the game and then Rust pulled off the jack-in-the-box empty net goal to complete his hat-trick and provide the final score of the game: 6-3.

These teams have now met seven times this season and will play each other for the eighth and final time in the regular season on Monday night. It will be interesting to see how that game plays out as the Penguins were short-handed in this one, missing Evgeni Malkin among others and the Islanders continue to be without Captain Anders Lee, who is out for the rest of the season. 

Lee’s net-front presence is a tough thing to replace and the Islanders will continue to search for a way to replicate Lee’s production; whether that comes via an in-house solution or via trade we do not yet know, but perhaps Monday night some clues might be discovered.

GAME NOTES:

The Isles went 0-for-4 on the power-play to bring their season tally to 17-for-86…Isles penalty-kill was victimized twice, going 2-for-4 in the game…Josh Bailey played in his 900th career regular-season NHL game with the Isles, only the fourth player in franchise history to reach that milestone…Ilya Sorokin’s franchise rookie record of eight-straight wins has been snapped…Anthony Beauvillier’s three-game goal-scoring streak was extended to a four-game goal-scoring streak with his third period goal…Mathew Barzal’s second period goal was his first marker in 11-games and Barzal’s third period assist gave him his first multi-point game since March 6th…Michael Dal Colle was placed on IR prior to the game and will missed this game and will miss the upcoming game on Monday night. 

NEXT GAME:

Monday March 29th Islanders at Penguins at PPG Paints Arena at 7pm(EST).

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