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Penguins top Islanders behind strong special teams

by Wes Crosby

PITTSBURGH -- The New York Islanders started their season with four consecutive wins. The Pittsburgh Penguins made sure that total did not reach five.

Pittsburgh used a flurry of power-play goals to earn a 3-1 win against the Islanders at Consol Energy Center on Saturday.

The Penguins and Islanders matched the NHL's top two power-play units against the League's bottom two penalty kills. That wasn't evident through the game's first half, with each team failing to score on several power plays, including a 5-on-3 for the Islanders that lasted 1:26.

That was until Pittsburgh took full advantage of its own 5-on-3, scoring two goals 55 seconds apart to take a 2-1 lead.

After the Islanders were called for too many men on the ice, the Penguins began a 5-on-3 with 1:22 remaining on a hooking call against Cory Conacher. Evgeni Malkin tied the game 15 seconds into the two-man advantage when he wristed a pass from Sidney Crosby past Islanders goalie Jaroslav Halak with 6:11 remaining in the second.

"We work hard in practice, we have a good group," Malkin said. "Everyone has the one-timer, and we move the puck quick. … We try what works. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, and if it doesn't work, we switch again."

Malkin launched another shot on goal, this time a slap shot from the point, less than a minute later that was tipped by Patric Hornqvist in front and into the left of the New York net past Halak to give Pittsburgh a one-goal lead.

"We've talked about the chemistry on the power play, which has been there a little bit from last year," Penguins coach Mike Johnston said. "I've thought Kris Letang's done a very good job on the back end of the power play, so I'm really happy with him. You look at him, he's the quarterback there with the four forwards, and you have Malkin and Crosby at the outside and two great net guys.

"When you get a 5-on-3 opportunity as they had and then we had right after, those are turning points. We scored, they didn't. It was the difference in the game."

The Pittsburgh penalty kill, which entered Saturday ranked last (60 percent), continued to be a catalyst during the third period. The Penguins killed two late power plays, the Islanders' fifth and sixth of the game, with goalie Marc-Andre Fleury making several saves on the first to maintain the lead.

Pittsburgh killed seven New York power plays overall.

"The power play was ugly," Islanders captain John Tavares said. "And the second half of the game, we didn't generate much. So, we have to do a better job of possessing the puck, forechecking and get it to be a little bit better with it. We didn't seem to be as crisp as we were to start the first four games."

Fleury finished with 31 saves.

Hornqvist scored into an empty net with 1:20 remaining with New York playing with an extra attacker to make it 3-1. He has eight points and four goals in his first four games with the Penguins, and is tied with Crosby for the team lead in goals and trails Crosby by one point for the team lead.

"They're four great players there [on the Penguins power play]. They're unbelievable," Hornqvist said. "Obviously, Sid and [Malkin] together is probably the best pair in the world, and Letang is great on the point, and [Chris Kunitz] is awesome up front. So, we have it going right now, but we have to keep working and not sit back here."

Crosby earned an assist, the 500th of his career, on Hornqvist's empty-net goal. He became the sixth fastest player to 500 assists in NHL history, and joined Mario Lemieux (1,033) and Jaromir Jagr (640) as the only Penguins to have reached that mark.

Islanders coach Jack Capuano said he thought the game turned when New York was unsuccessful on its 5-on-3 in the second.

"If you go back and look at our record when we don't score a 5-on-3 goal, it's not very good," Capuano said. "So, you can't just give those guys the opportunities, but we had opportunities too. We didn't capitalize on ours, and obviously they did, and that's the difference in the game."

The Penguins had the better play in the last half of the first period, recording the last nine shots, but the Islanders came away with a 1-0 lead after Thomas Hickey's goal 5:46 into the game.

A few minutes after Fleury robbed Kyle Okposo with a sprawling glove save, forward Ryan Strome slid a pass through the heart of Pittsburgh's defense to Hickey to the left of the net. Hickey did what Okposo could not by wristing a shot over Fleury's rising glove and into the upper-right corner of the net.

Forward Brock Nelson earned the goal's second assist. His eight points (four goals) have him second in the League in scoring behind Tavares, who has nine points (two goals), and Crosby.

Pittsburgh finished the first with a 16-10 advantage in shots, but Halak denied the Penguins on several opportunities. The best chance might have come with 14.9 seconds left in the period, when Hornqvist deflected a pass from defenseman Simon Despres over Halak and off the left post.

Halak, who made 35 saves, pounced on the puck to cover it and end the threat.

"He's been great for us," Tavares said. "He made some big saves and there are some pretty good shooters over there, obviously. He did some great things to keep us in the game."

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