ELMONT, N.Y. — The Pittsburgh Penguins gave up the game’s first goal just 63 seconds after the opening puck drop. While they did tie the game later in the first period, it was a brief and fleeting highlight in an otherwise dreary and disjointed loss to the New York Islanders, 5-1, at UBS Arena.
The Penguins were outshot, 43-20, out-chanced by a whopping 35-16, and gave up 16 high-danger chances while earning only six.
The Penguins’ shot leader was P.O Joseph, who had a goal and three shots. He also led the Penguins with three blocked shots, too. He may have been the best Penguins skater on the ice.
Brian Dumoulin paced the team at minus-3 — an adjustment by the off-ice officials well after the game dropped it from minus-4 — although he was hardly the villain on a night of too many mistakes by too many players.
Tuesday morning, coach Mike Sullivan said he expected to tweak the bottom two lines to find more balance. By Tuesday night, he didn’t use many words, but the ones he did were covered in disappointment.
The Penguins were just never in the game. Did it feel like that on the bench?
“Yep. It might have been our worst game of the year,” Sullivan said.
By the middle of the second period, Sullivan began changing his lines, en masse, trying to find combinations that worked. Danton Heinen took some shifts with Evgeni Malkin. Rickard Rakell joined them.
Nothing lasted long, as the Penguins managed just eight shots over the final 40 minutes. They had four shots in the second period and four more in the third.
Did Sullivan see any line combination that he liked?
“Not really,” he said.
Mike Sullivan was not happy:
“We got it tied, then the second they took over and, you know, we just never really found our game,” Sidney Crosby said of the drubbing.
One life raft that PHN floated to both Sullivan and Crosby was the lack of preparation before the game. The NHL’s holiday break prohibited practices or travel on Dec. 26, so players arrived in Elmont on the 27th with little preparation since their last game on Dec. 22 against Carolina.
Was the almost inexplicably bad loss tied to the circumstances?
“Yeah, hopefully,” Crosby said. “We don’t make any excuses … we’ve got to be better tomorrow and then turn the page here pretty quickly.”
The Pittsburgh Penguins will have to do just that. They host the Detroit Red Wings, who are closely chasing the wild-card seeds in the Eastern Conference, on Wednesday at PPG Paints Arena.
The Penguins’ loss dropped them to the first wild card and put them in a points tie with the second wild-card New York Rangers. Each team lost Tuesday and has 43 points. The Islanders pulled within one point of the pair.
However, the Penguins have two games in hand on both teams.