ELMONT, NY — The Pittsburgh Penguins laid waste to the New York Islanders. After several frustrating losses to the Islanders last season, leading to a four-game losing streak against them, the Penguins did everything right Wednesday in their 7-0 blowout win at UBS Arena.
There was a bit of good-natured teasing going on in the room, too. The Penguins have won five of their last seven games, and a win after the holiday break seemingly served double helpings of holiday cheer and confidence.
The Penguins exploded for six goals in the second period. Jake Guentzel scored two. Evgeni Malkin scored two. Rickard Rakell broke the ice with the first one, as Radim Zohorna and Valtteri Puustinen broke their droughts, as well.
It was Zohorna’s first goal since Nov. 7 and Puustinen’s first NHL goal.
Get the Penguins game recap here.
Kris Letang tied a couple of NHL records as he led the raucous win. He tied Dale Hawerchuk’s nearly 40-year-old record with five assists in one period. He became the first defenseman ever to accomplish the feat. Letang tied the record for NHL defensemen with six assists in one game, and he tied the Penguins’ franchise record with six assists.
“It was pretty special,” Letang said. “When you have a chance to play with good players, they’re not the hardest plays to make, but if you give it to the right guy, sometimes they score, and you get the assists.”
He need not be entirely modest. Letang made a few sharp passes that created an easy goal for Malkin. Letang also served up a dish for Puustinen to drill the one-timer.
Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr were the other Penguins to record six helpers in one game. Letang was a plus-6. Defense partner Marcus Pettersson also had a career-high with four assists.
The Penguins win moved them to within four points of the Carolina Hurricanes for the first Eastern Conference wild card, and the Penguins have two games in hand. The Penguins are also four points behind the Philadelphia Flyers for third place in the Metro Division, and each team has played 33 games.
Things are getting tighter in the Metro.
Pittsburgh Penguins Locker Room
It was that kind of night and a good mood in the Penguins locker room. That captain Sidney Crosby somehow failed to record a single point in the drubbing was a cause for joking, not consternation.
The game was also notable for another milestone. Evgeni Malkin surpassed Sergei Federov for the second-most goals by a Russian in NHL history. Malkin didn’t speak to reporters following the game, but Puustinen was all smiles.
The small winger with a big game has six points (1-5-6) in eight NHL games this season. The former seventh-round pick has waited his turn for both an NHL chance and his first goal. The 23-year-old Finnish player was drafted in 2019.
“We’re thrilled for him, and you can see the enthusiasm when he scored to get that first one,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “He’ll never forget that one as long as he lives. And it was a really nice one on top of it.”
Puustinen blistered a one-timer from the left circle in the third period.
An act of Congress couldn’t remove the smile from his face. Even if his English isn’t very good, his tone says it all:
It’s not often a defenseman ties or sets four records in one game. Letang tied two NHL records with five assists in one period and six total assists but set the record by becoming the only defenseman in NHL history with five helpers in one period.
Despite the multiple records, Letang didn’t know about a couple of them. He was told about tying the record for six assists but didn’t know he tied Hawerchuk or became the first NHL defenseman to reach the mark.
It was a show-stopping night for Letang, as he acknowledged it seemed everyone buried the chances he set up, including Puustinen. Letang had the primary assist on Puustinen’s tally, as well as the apple on Evgeni Malkin’s second goal of the game and Jake Guentzel’s first.
Beyond the individual records, the Penguins are winning games and slowly moving back into playoff contention.
“We lost the last game going into the break after coming back into the game, obviously. So it’s always a tough, tough loss,” said Letang, referencing the bad loss to the Ottawa Senators on Dec. 23. “But when you come back, and you’re able to win a game against a division rival like this and somebody you’re chasing, it’s huge.”
The Penguins defenseman was also happy that it was him and not Crosby who set up Puustinen’s memorable goal.
Coach Mike Sullivan
There wasn’t much Sullivan couldn’t praise Wednesday. The Penguins outclassed the Islanders in nearly every phase. His team scored a handful of goals from within feet of the net. His team made smart decisions and didn’t lose their structure–as they’ve done far too often this season–even when the first period was a slog.
“I thought in the second period we did a much better job just controlling territory, establishing some offensive zone time,” Sullivan said. “I think a lot of it started in the neutral zone. We made good decisions with the puck, and I thought our guys did a really good job. That goes a long way to set the game up.”