Empty Thoughts: Penguins 4, Islanders 3 (OT)
Observations from the Penguins’ 4-3 overtime win against the Islanders.
The Penguins claimed they weren’t looking for revenge against the Islanders.
Yeah, they were fully aware of how this opponent had humiliated them roughly seven months prior and acknowledged that recent history when speaking with reporters on Thursday morning.
But they just wanted a win in November. They weren’t trying to avenge that humiliation they suffered in April.
“You’re always up for those games when you’re playing a team you’ve faced prior (in the postseason),” said captain Sidney Crosby. “That being said, it’s a new team and a new situations. Your approach is probably a little different but it’s probably good motivation.”
And through the first 40 minutes of this game, they looked like they were fully ready to avoid getting that revenge they swear they didn’t want.
The Islanders had raced out to a 3-0 lead thanks to the same patient, opportunistic style they frustrated the Penguins with during their four-game sweep last spring. They waited for the Penguins to make mistakes and converted three of those faux pas into goals.
During the second intermission, the “Novengers” shook up their top three lines.
Alex Galchenyuk moved up to the top line with Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel.
Jared McCann jumped to the second line along with Evgeni Malkin and Bryan Rust.
And Dominik Simon slid down to the third line next to Nick Bjugstad and Dominik Kahun.
That second trio did all the heavy lifting and sparked this team to one of it’s most impressive victories of the season.
“It was obviously a good line for us,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “They were dynamic in the third period. There’s a lot of speed on the wings there. We got to the net better in the third period better than the first two. It’s something that we were talking about the whole game but I thought our guys really were committed to getting to the net in the offensive zone and taking away the goalie’s sight lines away a little bit better than we had in the first two periods. As a result, we score some goals. But that line was really good for us.”
The Islanders needed all of 13 seconds to claim the first lead of the contest. Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock chucked a wrister from the right point at the cage. The sailed by a net-front battle between Penguins defenseman Marcus Pettersson and Islanders forward Michael Dal Colle, glancing off of Dal Colle, then hit off the end boards. Islanders forward Casey Cizikas, from the right of the cage, corralled the rebound, dragging it with his forehand to the near post and lifted a quick backhander past the blocker of goaltender Matt Murray. Assists were credited Dal Colle and Pulock.
The Penguins were in position to get on the scoreboard with a power play chance midway through the second period but yielded a short-handed goal at the 6:28 mark. After Malkin and Guentzel failed to corral a puck at New York’s right point, Islanders forward Cal Clutterbuck pushed it up the left wing to Cizikas. Fending off Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz, Cizikas centered the puck back to Clutterbuck who chugged into the offensive zone, veered to the right circle and ripped a wrister through Murray’s five hole. Assists went to Cizikas and defenseman Adam Pelech.
New York began to pour it on only 1:58 later. Forward Mathew Barzal gained the Penguins’ zone on the left wing, pulled up on the half wall, surveyed the ice and fed a pass to the center point for an advancing Pelech who popped a one-timer. The puck glanced off the stick of Penguins forward Teddy Blueger in the high slot and sailed through the five hole of an unsuspecting Murray. Islanders forward Anders Lee and Penguins defenseman Jack Johnson appeared to screen Murray on the sequence. Barzal and Lee had assists.
The Penguins finally got on the scoreboard at 1:38 of the third. Off a defenseman-to-defenseman pass from Brian Dumoulin, John Marino fed the puck from the right point to McCann above the right circle. Creating some space on Barzal, McCann fired an on off-balance wrister through Lehner’s five hole. Rust was in front providing a screen. Marino and Dumoulin netted assists.
They pulled within one at 6:16 of the third. After Murray absolutely purloined Islanders forward Anthony Beauvillier’s backhander off a rebound during a goalmouth scramble, Marino swatted the puck from the slot to the left wing wall of the defensive zone. Malkin collected it and centered a pass to McCann. Turning up ice, McCann fed a pass up the right wing for Rust who pushed the puck into the offensive zone facing minimal resistance from Islanders defenseman Johnny Boychuk. From the right circle, Rust lifted a wrister which toasted Varlamov’s glove hand on the near side. Assists went to McCann and Malkin.
The game was tied, 3-3, only 2:32 later. Taking a pass at the right point, Penguins defenseman Juuso Riikola pedaled to the center point and fluttered a wrister towards the cage. The puck glanced off of Varlamov’s blocker and deflected off the crossbar. As the puck bounced to the right circle, Malkin fought of Boychuk and swatted a backhander past Varlamov’s left skate. Assists were granted to McCann and Riikola.
Rust ended it at 3:25 of overtime. Hounding Islanders forward Brock Nelson into a turnover behind New York’s cage, he jammed a wraparound attempt past Varlamov’s left skate to claim victory. The score was unassisted.
• The Penguins controlled shots, 39-23.
• Malkin, Riikola, Rust and Simon each led the game with four shots on net.
• Blueger, Schultz and forward Brandon Tanev were the Penguins’ only skaters who failed to get a shot on net.
• Cizikas, Nelson, Pelech and Pulock each led the Islanders with two shots on net.
• Pulock led the game with 26:02 of ice time on 30 shifts.
• Schultz led the Penguins with 25:20 of ice time on 30 shifts.
• The Islanders had a 24-23 edge in faceoffs (51 percent).
• Nelson was 11 for 18 (61 percent).
• Bjugstad was 7 for 11 (64 percent).
• Pelech led the game with three blocked shots.
• Schultz led the Penguins with two blocked shots.
• The Penguins’ last overtime victory against the Islanders was a 3-2 home win on March 3, 2018. Crosby scored on goaltender Christopher Gibson in overtime:
• Rust (120 points) surpassed forward Orest Kindrachuk (118) for sole possession of 74th place on the franchise’s career scoring list.
• Malkin (1,006) surpassed former Flyers/Bruins/North Stars/Whalers forward Brian Propp (1,004) for 87th place on the NHL’s career scoring list.
• The Penguins’ power play continues to struggle. They have not scored a goal with the man advantage in 10 consecutive games and are 0 for 22 during that span.
• To make matters worse, they gave up their first true short-handed goal of the season. They had allowed a short-handed goal in a 3-0 home loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Oct. 19 but that came with an empty net late in regulation.
• John Marino continues to shine. He filled in for Kris Letang on a pairing with Brian Dumoulin. On 27 shifts, he logged 20:42 of ice time. In addition to his assist setting up the first Penguins goal, he had one shot on five attempts and blocked one shot.
• His ability to get the puck out of “emergency” situations continues to impress. Midway through the first period, Dumoulin broke his stick and lost the puck in his own zone. Marino calmly recovered it from the Islanders forechecker and got it back up ice.
• For a player who has just over a month of NHL experience, Marino’s composure to get the puck out of danger, when a handful of forecheckers are crashing the world around him, is remarkable.
• Riikola’s assist on Malkin’s goal was his first point of the season. He logged 17:37 of ice time on 25 shifts and was second on the team with eight shot attempts.
• Sullivan is digging Rust’s play:
“He’s played with that since the start of training camp quite honestly. (Rust) is playing with a hunger and you can see it in his game. His speed is so evident and he’s hard to play against because he can track pucks down. He can strip defensemen from behind. That’s what he brings to this team. And he has the ability to score. He’s finishing for us but his second effort I think is impressive.”
• The Penguins’ approach to the comeback was simple. Malkin:
“It’s not a great mood (after the second) but we understand it’s not over. We understand the game is 60 minutes. We’re professional here. We sit here in the locker room with our support here. Coach come in and said, ‘It’s not over, let’s go guys.’ You see right now in the NHL, you can (be losing) 4-0 and you can come back in the game. You need just to fight every shift. Twenty minutes is (a) long time. It’s a great win for sure. We played against Edmonton (on Saturday), we played against Boston, it’s unbelievable, we fight every game. But sometimes, those games, we lost both. Tonight, we’re a little bit lucky and we win the game.”
• Rust had a similar explanation to their mindset:
“Our goal was to just come out on the first shift in the third and try to slowly get one. TO get that quick one was huge. Then we kind of just built off of that.”
• What wasn’t clicking through the first two periods? Sullivan:
“It was one of those games, I think we didn’t give up a lot. But give the Islanders credit. They play stingy defense and they’re looking to try to take advantage of your mistakes. They were able to capitalize on a couple of ours. So we found ourselves down in the game. It wasn’t like the ice was tilted or anything like that. In fact, I thought we had a lot of possession time, we had a lot of offensive zone time. Once again, we got pucks to the net. The (shot totals were) an indication of that. But … The first half of the game, I didn’t think we did as good a job getting to the net front to make the goalie’s job difficult and we did a better job in the second half of the game of that. It was one of those games, it was hard fought out there. You had had fight for every inch of ice. I give our players a lot of credit. Their resilience and just their ‘stick-to-it-ness’ to keep fighting and keep pushing in that third period I just think is an indication of the character that we have in our room.”
• Malkin had a pretty even-keeled outlook on the game:
“Of course it’s not fun when you start a game and you’re (losing) 3-0 right away. You need to try to fight back but we need to play right. We need the first shift, second shift, third shift, we need to lead all game. It’s more fun when you control all game. I know we have a good team. We score like four, five goals but we need to play better in the (defensive) zone. The power play, it (stinks). We can’t play like this. I know it’s not fun. Guys who sit on the bench, they see that. We’re happy to win, we’ll take the two points.”
(Note: You can be assured Malkin did not say “stinks” but this is a family publication.)
• Murray’s save was big. Malkin:
“His save (gave) us more energy. We scored right away. Rust, his next shift, he scored. It changed the (momentum) for sure in the game. If they score, probably they win.”
• Rust on Murray:
“It’s huge. If that doesn’t happen, I don’t think the game goes the way it did. He’s obviously a big part of us that making saves like that is just part of his game.”
• Is Sullivan worried about the power play?
“I always worry about the power play. Obviously, we want to get it going and we’ve got some talent. The challenge has been to try to get some consistency because we have so many guys coming in and out of the lineup with injuries. We had some consistency there for a while with two defensemen and we thought they were trending the right way. (Malkin) comes back in the lineup and he’s an important guy for us. Then (Letang) goes down, (Hornqvist) goes down. We’ve had so many different combinations just out of necessity with some of the injuries that we’ve had. It’s been hard for us to establish any level of consistency. Having said that, I still believe we’ve capable guys in there. That’s not an excuse by any stretch but that’s just one challenge that we’ve been faced with trying to get some reps and some familiarity and some consistency with our power play.”
• Sullivan is high on Marino:
“He played real well. He’s such a good skater. He has another gear. We used him in the overtime. One of the reasons we used him in the overtime is because he’s such a good skater and he defends so well and he can pass the puck. You can see he was stride for stride with Barzal in the overtime and Barzal can really skate. John, he has that next gear where he can skate with the best skaters in the league. That’s what makes him as good of a defender as he is. I just think he’s getting better and better with every game that he plays. He’s getting more comfortable with our team and how we’re trying to play. We just think he’s a good solid player.”
• Game summary.
Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .