Penguins underwhelm in loss as Matt Murray returns
NEW YORK — Goalie Matt Murray made his return to game action Tuesday night, playing for the first time since suffering a concussion during a Feb. 26 practice.
The Penguins made sure he got plenty of chances to work on every facet of his game.
Tips and screens. Shots off net-front scrambles. Open looks from the high slot. Lots of penalty-kill situations.
It might have been a good test for their No. 1 goaltender, but it wasn't a good way to try to win a hockey game.
Mathew Barzal had a goal and an assist to lead the New York Islanders to a 4-1 victory, handing the Penguins the third loss in their last five games.
"We didn't play with the urgency that we needed to," coach Mike Sullivan said. "We didn't defend hard. If you don't defend in this league, you can't win.
"We didn't defend hard enough. We lacked discipline. We didn't have a good start. That was the story of the game."
An agitated Sullivan said he thought inconsistency had been plaguing his team's game beyond Tuesday night's result. It's been going on for a few weeks, which is a disquieting development with only nine games left in the regular season.
The inconsistency has come home to roost in the standings, too. The Penguins fell into a second-place tie with red-hot Columbus, four points behind first-place Washington. Fourth-place Philadelphia lurks one point back.
"We have a lot of good players in here. We know how to play," winger Patric Hornqvist said. "We just have to make sure we do it over and over."
The Penguins were particularly ineffective in their own zone in the first period.
About five minutes into the game, Murray, Brian Dumoulin and Kris Letang struggled to handle a puck below the goal line, allowing Jordan Eberle to knife in, make a steal and move the puck high in the zone. Seconds later, a Johnny Boychuk point shot deflected in off Barzal.
About five minutes after that, Letang and Jake Guentzel couldn't orchestrate a clear up the left-wing boards. Seconds later, Tanner Fritz dropped a pass for Adam Pelech for a slap-shot goal from the high slot.
In the midst of the Islanders surge, the Penguins were taking penalties, five of them in the first two periods, six total in the game. They've given up at least one power-play goal in five consecutive games.
"Every time we tried to get into a flow, we took another penalty," Sullivan said. "It's hard to win that way. We didn't have nearly the discipline that we needed to have to be the team we want to be tonight. We beat ourselves."
The Penguins cut the Islanders' lead to 2-1 when Phil Kessel set up Conor Sheary with a cross-ice feed late in the second period. The Islanders restored their two-goal edge with an Anders Lee power-play goal early in the third.
"Any time we had a little momentum or something was going, we were in the box again," Dumoulin said. "Obviously, when we're doing that, some of our best players are sitting."
Murray made 36 saves in his return, including a diving paddle stop on a Barzal rebound bid off an Anthony Beauvillier wraparound attempt in the second period.
He said he felt sharp considering how much time he missed and didn't complain about the heat of the fire he was thrown into.
"I don't get to choose how the game goes," Murray said. "I felt pretty good. As a team, I thought we could have been a little bit better more consistently, myself included. We had our moments. We had a good second period, but they just outplayed us overall."
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.