The New York Islanders wrapped up their four-game road trip with a 3-2 loss - in their fourth meeting of the season - against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night at PPG Paints Arena. The loss was their second-straight regulation loss against Pittsburgh, who bested them 4-1 on Thursday night as well, leaving them 2-2-0 on the four-game road swing.
Despite taking a 2-1 lead early in the third period, with goals from Jordan Eberle and Brock Nelson, Pittsburgh secured the comeback victory with third-period goals from Mike Matheson and Kris Letang. Letang scored Pittsburgh's opening goal on the power play in addition to the game-winner. Both of his goals were assisted by Sidney Crosby, who skated in his 1,000th NHL game.
Tristan Jarry turned aside 33 shots to secure the win, while Semyon Varlamov stopped 15 shots in the Islanders loss.
Despite losing in regulation, the Islanders felt it was one of their stronger games of the season.
"Life's not fair sometimes, but if you stick to the process you'll get those results," Head Coach Barry Trotz said. "The guys in the room know that. We probably deserved the point tonight at least and maybe two. If we continue that way then, we'll have success. You're not always going to get the result that you want when you put in a good effort. The team on the other side put in a good effort too, they found a way to get three pucks into the back of the net and we weren't able to get that third one in. We've just got to be resilient and go after the next game."
Trotz had noted following Thursday's 4-1 loss to the Penguins, that he felt his team get the puck to the paint enough and ultimately, 'didn't make it hard enough on [Jarry].'
On Saturday, the Islanders did just that.
Off the drop of the puck, the Islanders showed no hesitation in testing Jarry early and frequently. Within the first minute of play, Mathew Barzal made an opportunistic attempt on a wraparound. Jarry made the initial pad save, but was saved by his post on the follow-up attempt as Anders Lee nearly scored on the backdoor.
The Islanders offense continued to generate an onslaught of lethal looks on net. Through the first five minutes alone, Jarry was under siege as the Islanders outshot the Penguins 6-0. A rush with Oliver Wahlstrom and Leo Komarov appeared to be a sure lock, but Jarry was able to deny Komarov's five-hole attempt. While the Islanders didn't get on the scoresheet, their busy efforts still reflected in their skewed 16 shots to Pittsburgh's four at the first intermission.
"I thought we did [have more urgency]," Trotz said. "A couple of pucks - because we had good net presence and we shot it - just missed. Some of the vantage points that we get on the bench, for the first and third especially, you can see how close you are to scoring sometimes. I thought we made it more difficult on [Jarry].
Pittsburgh pressed the Islanders onto the heels to start the second period, as the Pens' offense cultivated a few promising chances. Through the first 10 minutes and Pittsburgh's four shots into the period, Varlamov was saved by his iron twice. Kasperi Kapanen nearly beat Varlamov with a shot blocker side, but the winger's shot connected with the post. Sam Lafferty would do the same, this time striking the cross bar.
And while the Penguins picked up steam, the Islanders manufactured their own momentum as a result of an extended possession and golden opportunity. Just over 10 minutes into the period, Barzal skated the puck in and out of the zone as the Islanders hemmed in the Penguins. Anthony Beauvillier served Barzal a perfect mid-air pass, but Barzal's redirect went straight into Jarry's chest.
The Islanders' boost was halted there as Beauvillier took the first penalty of the night for hooking on Jason Zucker at 12:23. Upon winning the faceoff draw, courtesy of Crosby, the Pens' power play set up Letang for a one-timer at the left faceoff circle, where the defenseman teed up a wicked shot to put the Penguins on the board at 12:35.
What could have deflated the Islanders instead, propelled them as they responded with a goal of their own just under three minutes later. The Islanders countered following a Pittsburgh 3-on-2 rush with one of their own. Beauvillier spun off Pittsburgh blueliner Pierre-Oliver Joseph to play Eberle, with an abundance of time. The shifty winger toe-dragged across the crease and roofed his usual backhanded shot top shelf to put the Islanders on the board at 15:28.
The Islanders picked up their first lead of the game just 53 seconds into the third period, as fired a long-range wrister past Jarry, whose vision was inhibited by Josh Bailey's net-front screen.
But the Penguins wouldn't go away quietly.
The team flipped the script on the Islanders as they evened the score 2-2 off a transition play at 7:35 into the third period. Matheson scored his first goal as a Penguin as the defenseman jetted up ice and played Teddy Blueger along the right wall before streaking into the high slot. Blueger dished the puck back to Matheson for the game-tying goal.
With the momentum shift, Pittsburgh capitalized on the swing of the pendulum. The Penguins forecheck hemmed the Islanders in their own zone and recovered a puck from below the goal line. With time and space, Letang picked his shot and sniped in his second goal of the game over Varlmov's right shoulder, blocker side to restore Pittsburgh's lead 3-2 at 13:34.
The Islanders were awarded their first power play at 14:08 as Zucker was whistled for hooking. While the Islanders had some promising looks, Jarry held them all at bay as the penalty expired.
"Regulation losses sting a bit more this year, but we did some good things," Nelson said. "[We] had a lead in the third, you want to try and find a way to close it out, but learn from a couple of mistakes, their power play gets one and it turns out to be the difference. We get a power play late and we'd like to get one there and capitalize on it, grind out a point, maybe two, but there were some good things."
Nelson had found the back of the net four times this season prior to his goal on Saturday night. However, his third-period goal was the first goal of the season that the centerman had scored at even-strength.
"I thought Nelson had a real strong game," Trotz said. "He was firm, he made plays, he was skating. I liked a lot about his game today. He was really one of our top players tonight."
While it was a relief to rid that burden, Nelson has been heating up regardless of the circumstance. Nelson now has four points and three goals in his last five games. This season, the 29-year-old has compiled eight points (5G, 3A) through 17 games.
With his goal, Eberle is now tied with Lee for the Islanders goal-scoring lead with seven goals each this season.
Eberle is already off to one of the hottest starts of his 11-year NHL career with 10 points (7G, 3A) through 17 games this season.
With Beauvillier's return, Trotz reconstructed his top-six forwards back to the combinations that they had started the season at. Eberle rejoined Barzal and Anders Lee. As a line, the trio combined for nine shots on goal, seven of which were taken by Barzal.
"We've played so much together that when you go back to it, you know what to expect," Eberle said. "Barzal is such a unique player that you have to have played with him a bit to understand what he's thinking a little bit. Obviously I've done that. Lee is so good on the forecheck. We created quite a bit tonight and it would have been nice to get another one and tie this thing up, but there was a lot of good things."
BEAUVILLIER BOOSTS THE LINEUP
After being sidelined for nine games from Jan. 24 through Feb. 16, the Islanders eased Beauvillier back into the lineup.
With every game, the 23-year-old made incremental improvements in getting his game back to what it was prior to his injury, but by his third-straight game on Saturday night, Beauvillier put forth one of his most complete efforts of the season. The winger looked like his old, speedy and opportunistic self.
Beauvillier returned to skate alongside Nelson and Bailey, the line who he had started the season with. There, Beauvillier was able to zip up and down the ice and had an impact in both goals.
In total, Beauvillier ended the night with 18:54 played, including 1:04 power play, had one block, two hits and fired off two shots.
"Beau was ready to take on more minutes," Trotz said. "I felt it was the right time. [Beauvillier] was the missing piece for the [Beauvillier-Nelson-Bailey] line. We had been makeshifting it for a while. I was glad we got [Beauvillier], Bailey and Nelson together. I thought [Beauvillier] was effective."
KOMAROV DRAWS BACK IN THE LINEUP
Leo Komarov rejoined the lineup after sitting out Thursday's game in place of Kieffer Bellows, whom he replaced on Saturday. Komarov skated alongside Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Wahlstrom.
The winger logged 9:27 TOI, threw three hits and had one shot on goal.
The Islanders return to Nassau Coliseum as they face the Buffalo Sabres on Monday night in the first game of their upcoming four-game homestand. Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m.