PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins beautifully honored the victims and first responders of the Tree of Life Synagogue attack. After the somber, emotional tribute to victims and the city, the Penguins team outplayed the New York Islanders but made crucial mistakes at crucial times. The Islanders gobbled up every one. The Penguins fell to the Islanders 6-3 at PPG Paints Arena.
The Penguins were also without top defenseman Kris Letang who did not play due to a lower body injury suffered in the first period Saturday in Vancouver.
The first period was a harbinger of things to come. The Penguins vastly outplayed the Islanders who were opportunistic. Midway through the period, they scored on just their second shot when they caught the Penguins in a line change. Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel were last into the defensive zone and Andrew Ladd (3) was wide open for an easy goal.
It was deja vu two minutes later. During another line change, Islanders forward Josh Bailey quickly won a loose puck behind the net and centered to Brock Nelson (6) for another easy goal.
The Penguins dominated the first period. They outshot the Islanders 15-6 and peppered Islanders goalie Robin Lehner with great scoring chances just missed a couple would-be-goals.
“It’s hard as a player when you control the play and you come out of the first period behind,” said Matt Cullen. “It’s hard not to let frustration creep in.” PHN has more from Matt Cullen on PHN Extra.
With just over five minutes remaining in the first period and trailing 2-0, Dominik Simon (2) got a make-good goal. Simon set up Sidney Crosby on a great chance earlier in the period but the puck rolled off Crosby’s stick. Simon tried to set-up Jake Guentzel in front of the net, but Simon’s pass caromed off skates and past Lehner.
Three minutes later, Penguins defenseman Jamie Oleksiak sprung Sidney Crosby on a rush into the Islanders zone. Oleksiak stepped forward at the redline to disrupt the Islanders breakout and poked the loose puck to Crosby, who whistled a wrister over Lehner’s glove.
“I thought we played extremely hard. I thought we had a lot of energy,” said Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan. “The first 30 minutes plus, it was a pretty spirited effort.”
However, the Islanders opportunism continued in the second period. In fact, the Islanders had five goals on their first 10 shots and needed over 29 minutes to get seventh shot on goal and 35 minutes to get to 10 shots. However, they scored on three of their next four shots.
“To a certain extent, we beat ourselves a bit,” Sullivan also said. Despite the loss, he was otherwise complimentary of his team’s effort.
Another line change burned the Penguins. The Islanders stormed the Penguins zone
The Islanders notched a power-play tally two minutes later. Defenseman Chad Ruhwedel got caught on the wrong side of the crease. Instead of stepping to defend Islanders forward Jordan Eberle, Ruhwedel went to one knee but left the front of the net unguarded. Eberle (2) had all day to pick a spot on Murray, and did.
Murray was pulled for Casey DeSmith but the move did not spark the Penguins.
“Sometimes when you make a change it’s not about the goalie, it’s about the group,” said Mike Sullivan.
Just over two minutes since their last goal and four minutes since their first shot and goal of the period, more sloppy play from the Penguins gave the Islanders a three-on-one. Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel were slow to the zone after Juuso Riikola fell at the offensive blue line and Carl Hagelin was knocked off his skates at the defensive blue line.
The Penguins dominated the third period, as well. Evgeni Malkin (6) atoned for earlier mistakes with a goal just 90 seconds into the period but the Penguins could not sustain the comeback.
Midway through the third period, former Penguins forward and Tom Kuhnhackl, who won two Stanley Cups with the team, scored against his former mates. Kuhnhackl’s (1) centering pass bounced off Jamie Oleksiak’s skate and into the Penguins net. It was Kuhnhackl’s first point of the season and his first goal at PPG Paints Arena since Mar. 3, 2017.
*Editors note–The Mike Sullivan quote, “To a certain extent, we beat ourselves a bit,” was extended for additional context from original publishing.