UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- The New York Islanders were among the NHL's poorest teams at 5-on-5 for much of the regular season, and only their special teams kept them in the playoff race until a late-season improvement at even strength carried them to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
After a 5-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first game of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series, the Islanders were excellent at full strength in Games 2 and 3 -- only to see their penalty-killers come up short.
Pittsburgh went 2-for-4 in the opener and 1-for-4 in the Islanders' 4-3 win in Game 2. New York jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead in Game 3, but two power-play goals in a span of 19 seconds got the Penguins even. They added a third power-play goal on their fifth attempt of the day when Chris Kunitz scored in overtime to give Pittsburgh a 5-4 victory.
"I thought 5-on-5 we played pretty solidly," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said Monday. "They've got quite a few goals on the power play, and there are things we have to clean up on the penalty kill."
He also said the Islanders have to do a better job at staying out of the penalty box. Pittsburgh has had 13 power plays in this series and cashed in on six of them.
"We have to be more disciplined, with and without the puck," Capuano said. "With or without the puck -- discipline, whether it's system-wise, stick-wise, infraction-wise.
"That's part of the game, and with their quickness, we have to make sure that we defend a little bit harder and a little bit smarter."
Islanders forward Kyle Okposo, who scored a shorthanded goal Sunday, agreed that while his team has improved at full strength, they can’t survive without improved work against the Penguins' power play.
"I think we've controlled the play 5-on-5 in the last two games," he said. "They have some world-class skill, so we have to try to stay out of the box as much as we can because their power play has been hurting us.
"We have to find ways to stay out of the penalty box. Obviously we're going to take some -- we're not going to go the rest of the playoffs without taking a penalty. But we have to try to eliminate those as much as we can."