The Pittsburgh Penguins’ holiday break started one day earlier than that of most NHL teams.
They apparently figured that theirs also was scheduled to last a day longer than most others.
There certainly was very little about their 5-1 loss to the New York Islanders at UBS Arena Tuesday night to suggest that the Penguins (19-10-5) were prepared to resume playing at the level they had consistently reached while going 8-1-1 in their previous 10 games.
“Might have been our worst game of the year,” Mike Sullivan said.
They were outplayed, outworked, out-hustled and out-chanced throughout the evening by the Islanders, against whom they had been 5-2-3 in their previous 10 meetings on the road.
“We didn’t have our best effort,” center Jeff Carter said.
The defeat, coupled with the New York Rangers’ 4-0 loss to Washington, dropped the Penguins and Rangers into a tie for fourth place in the Metropolitan Division, one point behind the Capitals and one ahead of the Islanders.
The Penguins played most of the game without third-pairing defenseman Chad Ruhwedel, who went to the dressing room early in the second period and, per Sullivan, was being evaluated for an unspecified upper-body injury. He and Islanders forward Oliver Wahlstrom had an epic collision during the first period; Wahlstrom left the game before the first intermission.
New York took a 1-0 lead just 63 seconds into the game, when Anders Lee beat Tristan Jarry from above the right dot. The goal was set up by Brock Nelson, who intercepted Brian Dumoulin’s one-armed attempt to sweep a loose puck over the Penguins’ blue line and slid a pass to Lee.
Casey Cizikas appeared to put the Islanders up, 2-0, at 4:28, when he jammed a shot past Jarry from near the right post. A video review determined that the puck had entered the net before the play had been whistled dead, but the Pittsburgh Penguins then challenged that New York forward Mathew Barzal had been offside, which replays showed clearly to be the case.
The Islanders got another opportunity to double their lead when Kris Letang was penalized for interference at 5:11.
However, the Penguins’ penalty-kill and New York’s power play entered the game trending in radically different directions — the Penguins had allowed just one goal in their previous 30 shorthanded situations and the Islanders had not scored on any of their previous 22 power plays — and those held up while Letang was in the box.
The Penguins were unable to capitalize on an interference minor New York’s Anthony Beauvillier was assessed at 9:50, but pulled even on P.O Joseph’s second of the season at 15:13.
Joseph snapped a wrist shot from above the left circle and the puck dipped as it neared Brock McGinn, who was positioned near the inner edge of the circle. It then bounced — creating the illusion that McGinn had deflected it — before sailing past New York goalie Ilya Sorokin’s glove.
Although the Penguins had generated some momentum late in the opening period, they got another stumbling start in the second, and Hudson Fasching put New York back in front after 50 seconds, as he drove a slap shot past Jarry from above the right dot.
New York nearly struck again at 1:45, but Jarry was able to stop close-range backhanders by Beauvillier and Lee.
The reprieve was short-lived, however, as Josh Bailey made it 3-1 at 11:32. He threw a shot into a mostly open net from the inner edge of the left circle after taking a cross-ice feed from defenseman Noah Dobson.
Whatever hope the Pittsburgh Penguins had of salvaging a point or two likely disappeared when Barzal stuck a high shot behind Jarry from the bottom of the right circle at 16:42 for his second of the evening.
Lee rubbed it in by rapping in a loose puck from the right side of the crease at 3:33 of the third to close out the scoring.
“After having a few days off like that, we wanted to simplify the game and play straight ahead,” Sullivan said. “We did none of the above.”
Or much of anything else, for that matter.