Another Third-Period Meltdown Dooms Penguins, 4-2
The Pittsburgh Penguins have experienced a lot of adversity this season, much of it self-inflicted.
But they probably haven’t gone through anything quite as demoralizing as this.
It’s not just that they failed to hold a third-period lead against the New York Islanders for the second time in four nights in what became a 4-2 loss at PPG Paints Arena Monday night,
It’s that it happened at home. In the closest thing to a must-win game a team can have in late February. Against an opponent that had just lost its most dynamic talent.
“Instead of finding a way to win,” Mike Sullivan said, “we found a way to lose.”
Because of that, the Penguins have dropped out of an Eastern Conference playoff berth, dropping two points behind the Islanders and one behind Florida.
They also are 0-6-3 in their past nine games inside the Metropolitan Division.
Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry, in his first appearance since being injured Jan. 22, stopped 28 of 31 shots.
New York, meanwhile, played its first game without skilled and speedy forward Mathew Barzal, who is out indefinitely after suffering an unspecified injury Saturday in Boston.
The Penguins allowed Jarry to ease into the game, as they controlled play for much of the opening period.
They ran up a 19-7 edge in shots then, and had just a 1-0 lead at the intermission mostly because of some strong play by New York goalie Ilya Sorokin.
Jake Guentzel got the only goal during those 20 minutes at 6:12, when he set up at the front lip of the crease and put in a cross-ice feed from Sidney Crosby. Rickard Rakell got the second assist on that goal, Guentzel’s 24th.
The Penguins failed to add to their lead when New York defenseman Sebastian Aho was penalized for high-sticking Guentzel at 10:33, and again after Islanders winger Hudson Fasching was called for tripping at 2:21 of the second.
The Penguins didn’t get a shot on goal, or any meaningful pressure, during their first chance with the extra man, but Jeff Carter came within a few millimeters of scoring during the second one.
He was set up at the left edge of the crease and directed an Evgeni Malkin pass toward the net, but Islanders defenseman Alexander Romanov was able to clear it from the goal line.
The Penguins had carried over their momentum from the first period, but a ghastly lapse in judgment by Drew O’Connor allowed New York to tie the game at 5:19.
O’Connor, at the left point in the Islanders’ end, tried to keep a puck in that zone by knocking it out of the air with a baseball-style swing.
That allowed the Islanders to get a 2-on-1 break against Brian Dumoulin, and Brock Nelson beat Jarry from inside the right circle to make it 1-1.
O’Connor had a chance for redemption when he had a breakaway as the middle of the period approached, but Islanders defenseman Noah Dobson was able to chase him down and prevent O’Connor from getting off a dangerous shot.
However, the Pittsburgh Penguins got their third man-advantage of the evening when Zach Parise was called for tripping at 10:38, and converted it for a go-ahead goal.
Jason Zucker scored it from near the right post at 12:26. His first shot went off the side of the net, but Zucker persisted and put a shot off Sorokin and across the goal line for his 15th.
The Penguins have made a habit of giving up goals shortly after scoring one, and Jarry had to stop Parise on a breakaway on the shift following Zucker’s goal.
A potentially pivotal moment in the Penguins’ season took place at 17:15 of the second, when a series of skirmishes broke out.
The Penguins don’t often get involved in anything resembling fisticuffs and certainly don’t have a traditional enforcer on the payroll, but didn’t hesitate to engage in hostilities with the Islanders after a stoppage in the New York end.
By the time the final punch had been thrown and the final insult exchanged, 44 minutes in penalties had been assessed.
Kris Letang, Marcus Pettersson, Malkin, Guentzel and Zucker got roughing minors, as did Ross Johnston, Matt Martin, Scott Mayfield, Ryan Pulock and Brock Nelson of New York.
Zucker and Johnston also received unsportsmanlike conduct minors and 10-minute misconducts.
Neither team got a manpower advantage out of that mayhem and the Penguins certainly lost more accomplished players in the exchange, but it was an all-too-rare example of the Penguins sticking up for teammates.
“I think our team did get some energy out of it,” Sullivan said.
Teddy Blueger, who does not have a goal in his past 30 games, had a shorthanded breakaway in the first minute of the third period, but couldn’t beat Sorokin.
A few minutes later, the Pittsburgh Penguins had another power play during which they failed to manufacture a shot on goal.
Failing to capitalize on those opportunities proved costly when Bo Horvat put a sharp-angle shot through Jarry from the right side at 8:34.
Less than two minutes later, a Jarry turnover behind the goal line triggered a sequence that culminated in Anders Lee tucking in a shot at the right post at 10:15 for what proved to be the game-winner.
Nelson closed out the scoring with an empty-net goal with 24.2 seconds to play in regulation.
The Pittsburgh Penguins called off the practice that had been scheduled for Tuesday at noon at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex. They will work out there Wednesday at 11 a.m. before facing Edmonton Thursday at 7:38 p.m. at PPG Paints Arena.