PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Any New York Islanders' worries about a letdown were
answered in the game's opening minute. After that, there was no letting up
against a team considerably inferior to those they've been playing recently.
Jason Blake had two goals and two assists, and rookie Trent Hunter had his
third two-goal game, leading the streaking Islanders past the Penguins 6-1
The Islanders closed out their most successful December in 20 years by
winning their sixth in a row, three on the road. They beat the rival New Jersey
Devils three times while going 10-4-0-1 during the month -- more wins than they
had in December and January combined last season.
"They are playing better than anyone in the league right now," Penguins
coach Eddie Olczyk said.
Blake's four points matched a career high set twice previously and began
with his goal 57 seconds in, setting the tone for the Islanders' second rout of
the Penguins in their three meetings this season.
"It can be tougher to play these guys than New Jersey, because of the
record, so we had a goal to come out and have a good first shift," Blake said,
referring to a line that also includes Dave Scatchard and Mark Parrish.
Blake grabbed the puck as it deflected off defenseman Martin Strbak's ankle
and drove to the net to beat Caron.
"That (Blake) line came out flying and it definitely creates a lot of
energy for us, and the rest of the team feeds off it," Hunter said. "Our
confidence is a lot higher now. We'd get down a goal or two before and the wind
would go out of our sails, now we're sticking to our game plan no matter what
the score is."
Blake's early goal pleased coach Steve Stirling, who worried about a
possible letdown after his team beat the Devils twice and the Maple Leafs once
in a three-day span from Dec. 26-29.
"I think they realized you've got to come out and take care of business ...
if you beat New Jersey and come in here and lose, then the New Jersey game
doesn't mean a lot," he said.
Garth Snow didn't get much work as he turned aside 21 of 22 shots in
improving to 10-2-0-1 in his last 13 games. Penguins goalie Sebastien Caron,
who had 31 saves Monday in shutting out Chicago 1-0, was pulled after allowing
five goals on 22 shots in the first two periods.
"You're going to have nights like this in the course of the season,"
Olczyk said. "One of these nights is tough to overcome."
Blake got his second of the game and 11th of the season with only two
seconds left in the first period, knocking in the puck as it lay in the crease
just after Caron abandoned the net to try to make a play in the corner.
Hunter had made it 2-0 midway through the first period with a gift goal that
deflected off defenseman Dan Focht's skate. Hunter also scored a power-play
goal in the second period on a one-timer from the left circle off Adrian
Aucoin's cross-ice pass.
Hunter leads NHL rookies with 14 goals and 10 assists and has 12 points in
his last 13 games.
"No, I definitely didn't expect to start like this," Hunter said. "I just
wanted to come in and be a steady everyday player."
Oleg Kvasha and Scatchard also scored for Islanders. Kvasha's goal was the
league-high 10th short-handed goal allowed by Pittsburgh; by comparison, the
Philadelphia Flyers have yet to allow a goal with a man advantage.