UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- In a battle of teacher versus student, the teacher prevailed on Saturday night.
Sidney Crosby spoiled the NHL debut of John Tavares, as he scored in regulation before getting the shootout clincher in the Pittsburgh Penguins' 4-3 win against the New York Islanders at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Tavares provided everything the fans were hoping for in his debut -- other than an Islanders win, of course. No. 91 picked up his first NHL point with an assist in the first period before scoring his first goal in the second.
"It's disappointing, but they're the Stanley Cup champs," Tavares said after what was still a memorable night for the 19-year-old. "A lot of positives can come from it. We've got to get over it and get back to work tomorrow."
Crosby gave Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead just 8:50 into the game on a breakaway tally. The Pens' captain took a nice feed from Ruslan Fedotenko, cruised in on Dwayne Roloson (39 saves) and beat the Isles' goalie through the pads for his second goal in as many nights.
Tavares picked up his first NHL point on Mark Streit's power-play goal at 12:40 of the first period. With the Isles on a 5-on-3 advantage due to penaties to Jay McKee and Evgeni Malkin, Tavares fed Kyle Okposo, who then sent a cross-ice pass to Streit. The veteran defenseman ripped a slap shot past Marc-Andre Fleury to erase what was a 1-0 deficit.
"This looks like another really good player … a really special player with talented skills," Pens coach Dan Bylsma said of Tavares.
Bedlam ensued when Tavares scored his first NHL goal at 7:09 of the second period. With the Islanders on a power play, No. 91 gathered a loose puck in front of the net and backhanded it past Fleury to give his new club a 2-1 lead. Tavares became the 18th Islander in history to score in his NHL debut -- a list that includes Mike Bossy, who scored 573 times in his illustrious 10-year career.
"It was awesome," Tavares said. "I got great support from the fans all night. I had my family here, and they sacrificed a lot. It's something you dream about for a long time. To get in my first game, against that team … it was a special moment."
"For his first pro game, I don't think we could have asked for much more from him," Isles coach Scott Gordon said.
Tavares nearly picked up goal No. 2 just three minutes later, when Okposo sent him in on a breakaway. But Fleury preserved what's left of the roof on this 37-year-old facility with a dazzling glove save on Tavares' wrister. The Isles took the one-goal lead into the second intermission.
"There was a bunch of big saves for him," Bylsma said of Fleury, who finished with 25 saves. "He's had the ability to continue to make that save for us when we need it, and he did tonight."
Pittsburgh dominated the first half of the third period and finally notched the equalizer when Mark Eaton beat a screened Roloson at 7:19 to make it 2-2. But Trent Hunter quickly restored New York's lead when he one-timed Josh Bailey's feed from the right circle past Fleury for his first goal of the season. The Isles were outshot 11-0 until Hunter's tally.
"We set up some pretty good gifts with our turnovers," Gordon said. "I think I'd be more concerned if we didn't generate any quality chances in the third and in the overtime. That being said, a lot of that was our own doing."
But the Pens continued to create havoc in the Islanders' end, and once again came back to tie things up as Fedotenko's shot from the right side of the net deflected off the left skate of defenseman Bruno Gervais and past Roloson to make it 3-3. The Isles received a late power play when Bill Guerin slashed Okposo, but failed to capitalize as the game went to overtime.
"We made a big push, and that's a good sign for our team," Bylsma said. "We put our nose down and went to work as a group."
Matt Moulson had the best chance for either team in the extra session, but Fleury robbed the Isles' forward from point-blank range on a glove save with 3:31 remaining. Jeff Tambellini hit the crossbar to start the shootout, and Kris Letang quickly responded and put the Pens in front when his wrister found its way through Roloson's pads. Tavares missed the net in Round 2, which allowed Crosby to secure the victory as he also beat Roloson.
"It was a great challenge out there," Tavares said of going up against Crosby. "You can see why he's one of the best players in the world, if not the best. He's a great player and he's a great leader, as well."
One day, Tavares could be receiving the same compliments from players around the League. One former Islanders captain believes the biggest piece to the puzzle has arrived on Long Island.
"He looked good out there," Guerin said. "It's good to see. The Islanders need a guy like that. They've got some great young players now and really something to build off of. There are growing pains, but they're doing it the right way. They're doing the right things at the right times, and it's going to pay dividends in the end."
-- Brian Compton, NHL.com