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Islanders stay hot, defeat Penguins in shootout

by Wes Crosby

PITTSBURGH -- The New York Islanders defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins at Consol Energy Center on Friday, 5-4 in a shootout in the first game of a home-and home between the Metropolitan Division's top two teams.

They play again Saturday at Nassau Coliseum.

Kyle Okposo scored the deciding goal in the shootout, deking to the left before bringing the puck to the right and sliding it past Marc-Andre Fleury, who failed to win his 300th NHL game. New York's Frans Nielsen and Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby each scored in the second round of the shootout.

The win was the seventh in eight games for the Islanders (13-6-0), but coach Jack Capuano said he wasn’t satisfied with New York’s performance.

"I think that’s the sign of a good team," Capuano said. "When you don’t play well, and you don’t stay focused and you don’t do the intangibles that it takes, you still win the hockey game. So, they’re a good team in there. They have to believe in playing the right way and I know it’s going to happen over a long season, but tonight, we needed to be a little bit better."

Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang came close to scoring the winning goal 1:45 into overtime when he wrapped the puck around the net and deflected it off the left post, but New York defenseman Johnny Boychuk had his stick in position to keep the puck from crossing the goal line.

Islanders goalie Chad Johnson earned the win in his first game against Pittsburgh, which drafted him in 2006. He said the win didn’t hold any added beyond earning two points for New York.

"I think winning tonight was definitely a big confidence booster," Johnson said. "You want to get as many points as you can, especially against the top opponents. We got two points tonight and tomorrow, we’re just hoping to build off of it."

After the Penguins struggled to break through the neutral zone trailing 4-3, Evgeni Malkin skated the length of the ice with the puck weaving past Islanders on his way to setting up a game-tying goal by Patric Hornqvist. Malkin centered a pass from the right faceoff circle to Hornqvist, who one-timed a shot past Johnson with 7:00 remaining in the third period.

The Islanders scored three first-period goals, but entered the intermission with a one-goal lead after Johnson allowed two goals on the first three shots he faced.

Pittsburgh scored on its first shot, 1:13 into the period when Sutter screened Johnson and deflected a slap shot from Paul Martin into the net. They didn’t register a second shot until more than 11 minutes later when Hornqvist backhanded a puck off of Johnson.

The Islanders used Pittsburgh’s drought to build a 3-1 lead by scoring three goals on three shots across 1:35, starting with Matt Martin’s first goal of the season 8:18 into the first. On a line change, Martin received a pass from Travis Hamonic that sent him streaking down the left boards before snapping a shot past Fleury.

"I seem to like to go on these 20, 30-game goalless droughts, which is pretty tough," Martin said. "But luckily, thankfully, that one went in and it's a pretty big weight off my shoulders."

Nikolay Kulemin gave the Islanders a 2-1 lead 29 seconds later by poking a puck off of a faceoff away from Paul Martin, gaining control, deking around Letang and putting another snap shot past Fleury. A slap shot from Thomas Hickey deflected off of Ryan Strome's skate and into the Pittsburgh net, extending New York’s lead to 3-1, 9:53 into the first.

"Their start to the game was really good," Penguins coach Mike Johnston said. "And our defensive positioning, we weren’t really stopping in position and really settling things up. We were trying to move rather than stop and defend, and I thought the first period, we made that correction. We talked about it."

Blake Comeau cut New York’s lead to one goal by backhanding a wraparound shot off of Matt Martin and past Johnson with 3:26 remaining in the period.

The teams traded goals in the second period with the Islanders maintaining their one-goal lead, 4-3.

New York re-established a two-goal lead 5:42 into the second, with Nick Leddy’s fifth goal of the season. Strome sent a pass from behind the net to Leddy in the center of the left faceoff circle, where he snapped a shot through Fleury to give the Islanders a 4-2 lead.

Pittsburgh chipped away at the lead when Nick Spaling scored 3:08 later. Spaling battled in the crease with Hickey and Kulemin for a rebound off of a shot from Hornqvist. Spaling tipped inside the right post just before Kulemin could knock it away to pull the Penguins within one goal at 4-3.

"The first period was a little rough," Fleury said. "But I thought once we got going, once we got playing our way, we were in good shape and that allowed us to get back in the game."

Islanders defenseman Calvin de Haan left the game with 1:06 remaining in regulation after being tied up with Penguins forward Brandon Sutter and falling into the end boards.

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