Late Crosby goal lifts Penguins past Islanders
Evgeni Malkin was not ready.
Sidney Crosby was.
The Penguins needed goals from both of their scoring star centers to turn aside the New York Islanders, 4-3, on Friday night at Consol Energy Center.
Crosby finished a feed from right winger Pascal Dupuis for his 12th goal — and No. 250 in the NHL — with 1 minute, 16 seconds remaining in regulation.
Really, though, The Story was Malkin, who was at a career-worst 15 games without a goal.
His regular right winger, James Neal, had predicted Friday morning that would end.
The prophecy came true.
“He gives me a lot of great passes day in and day out. He's always looking for me in games. It's not hard for me to pass one to him and get him going,” Neal said, referring to his decision to pass up a clean shot and feed the puck to Malkin, who was marked by an Islander near the front of the crease.
Malkin, whose fourth goal of the season staked the Penguins a 3-1 lead in the second period, did not approve of Neal's decision to dish.
“I (was) not ready,” Malkin said. “He surprised me.”
Malkin has multiple points in four of five games and is now among the top 10 overall scorers with 24 points.
Crosby is tops with 30, and he commended Malkin for contributing to the Penguins' recent run — 4-1-0 — even though more than a month had passed since Malkin's last goal Oct. 17.
“For being a little frustrated, as anyone would, he's found ways to contribute, and that's what you need to do,” Crosby said. “That's something that can be overlooked, but it's not easy. He's done a great job of that.”
The Penguins (15-8-0, 30 points) did not do a great job defensively against the Islanders (8-12-3, 19 points).
Five previous opponents had averaged 21 shots, but Penguins backup goalie Jeff Zatkoff was forced to make 32 saves.
He turned aside nine shots in the final period, which began tied because of two second-period goals from Islanders left winger Thomas Vanek. Those sandwiched a goal from right winger Colin McDonald to erase Penguins leads of 2-0 and 3-1.
A blowout appeared imminent late in the first period, but a natural hat-trick goal by left winger Chris Kunitz was not counted because of a high-stick minor penalty assessed to Malkin. Still, Kunitz was credited for his 10th and 11th goals, both of which were scored on early power plays.
Malkin ran the power play, as defenseman Kris Letang was replaced — early — on the first unit by Paul Martin, giving the Penguins all left-handed shots while working the man-advantage.
The similarity did not prevent the players on the ice from doing their best impersonation of the early-1990s Penguins. Tape-to-tape passes, some of the low-percentage variety, came fast and furious against an Islanders' penalty kill that ranked last overall and 26th on the road.
Letang, sixth among defensemen last season with 12 power-play assists, only had one through 13 games before surrendering his spot to Martin to start the game.
Letang ended up pacing all Penguins with 24:28 of ice time, and he played only four fewer seconds on the power play than Martin.
Right winger Beau Bennett did not finish the game after leaving the bench early in the third period, but coach Dan Bylsma said he did not have an update regarding an injury.
With Bennett unavailable, Bylsma returned Dupuis as the top-line right winger with Crosby and Kunitz.
That line — the NHL's most productive last season — could have a future.
“We'll see,” Crosby said, smiling.
Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.
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