If this is the real Mike Matheson, the Pittsburgh Penguins (8-6-1) will be very happy for a long time. Matheson sparked three goals, despite only registering one assist, and the Penguins played a thorough game to beat the New York Islanders (8-5-3) 4-1 at PPG Paints Arena on Thursday night.
Penguins ‘tendy Tristan Jarry was also sharp as he turned aside 31 of 32 shots for his fourth win this season. The Penguins fired 37 shots and 36 on New York goalie Semyon Varlamov.
Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan shuffled the lines before the game. Kasperi Kapanen was elevated to the top line with Sidney Crosby, and Bryan Rust resumed skating with Jason Zucker and Evgeni Malkin on the second line.
The Penguins answered the bell, literally and figuratively, in the first period. Several minutes into the game, Penguins winger Brandon Tanev and big New York forward Casey Czikas dropped the mitts. It was part of a gritty, heavy first period in which neither team offered quarter.
Just over a minute after the fight, the Penguins put one on the scoreboard. After an extended hard cycle by the Penguins’ new top line with Kasperi Kapanen and a deft pinch by defenseman Mike Matheson to keep the play alive, Sidney Crosby (5) deflected Kapanen’s shot released from the hashmark.
In the first period, the Penguins had 11 shots and 13 hits. New York had 14 hits and 14 shots.
New York owned the first half of the second period. It looked like the game may slip away, much like the game Tuesday against the Washington Capitals got away in the second period. However, this time the Penguins pushed back.
The Penguins earned a 5v3 later in the second period. The crowd noise went crazy as Sidney Crosby appeared to score but hit the post.
Late in the period, Penguins defenseman Mike Matheson showed off his pickup hockey skills. He fired a wide wrist shot off the back wall, then chased his own bounce for a second shot, but the second one was from the slot.
New York goalie Semyon Varlamov saved the hard, low wrister, but Teddy Blueger (3) was wide open on the backside with a yawning cage. New York rolled their eyes before Blueger because there was nothing they could do.
Despite the slow start, the Pittsburgh Penguins outshot New York 15-11 in the second period.
Matheson again began the Penguins play in the third period. He outraced everyone to the puck behind the New York net to begin a sequence that touched Evgeni Malkin’s blade, then Bryan Rust’s, before Jason Zucker (4) finished the play in front.
Matheson did have one boo-boo. He boarded Mathew Barzal late in the third period. New York center Brock Nelson (4) scored a power-play goal.
However, Bryan Rust (6) scored an empty netter with three minutes remaining, and the Penguins salted the earth behind them.
Things got chippy after Rust’s goal. Matt Martin took a two-minute minor and 10-minute misconduct for unsportsmanlike conduct. Then tempers were heated in front of the Penguins bench with 90 seconds remaining. No gloves were dropped,