The last time the Penguins suited up against the New York Islanders on May 11, it was in Game 6 of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
That game ended in dramatic fashion, with a Brooks Orpik overtime goal advancing the Penguins to the next round of the playoffs and the Islanders home for the offseason.
But in the first meeting between the two teams since their series on Friday night at CONSOL Energy Center, the Islanders exacted revenge in similar dramatic fashion and came away with a 4-3 win..
The Penguins peppered New York goaltender Evgeni Nabokov with a season-high 42 shots but faltered in the last half of the third period. The Islanders tied the game with just under six minutes left and scored the game-winner with just under two remaining to down the Penguins 4-3
The Metropolitan Division foe used a blend of skill and speed that resulted in costly giveaways for the Penguins. The odd-man rushes that developed proved fatal for Pittsburgh and goaltender Jeff Zatkoff, who played “well enough to win,” according to head coach Dan Bylsma.
ZATKOFF MAKES FIRST HOME START
Goaltender Jeff Zatkoff made his first career home start and played well in the losing effort, stopping 21 of 25 Islanders shots.
Zatkoff bounced back well after a tough 6-3 loss in his NHL debut in Florida on Oct. 11. He appeared very calm in net for most of tonight’s game and made a number of quality saves, saying his confidence level was much higher than it was in his debut that came exactly two weeks before Friday night’s game against the Isles.
“I felt way better,” Zatkoff said. “I felt confident the whole game. Just ten minutes got away from us, it’s frustrating. A game we probably should have had. Credit them, they played hard and got the win.”
Bylsma said the shot count for the Isles (25) was a bit misleading, saying they had lots of quality scoring chances – at least 15 – that Zatkoff made very good saves on.
In the long run, Zatkoff’s solid performance is a good sign for the Penguins as he played well and the game just got away from Pittsburgh at the end. With five back-to-back situations in the month of November, the Penguins should feel more comfortable about the goaltending situation as it stands right now.
“He made probably 4-5 great saves when he needed to,” Bylsma said. “I thought he played a lot stronger in net. He made the save in the second period with the guy coming down the left side. He made a big save there.
“It should have been enough for the win.”
ENGELLAND GETS A GOAL
Defenseman-turned-forward Deryk Engelland moved up once again and played on the fourth line with Joe Vitale and Craig Adams, netting a big goal in the third period to give the Penguins an abbreviated 3-2 lead.
Engelland continued to show the grit and toughness that he carries on the back end, bringing a physical element and getting multiple quality chances to score directly in front of Nabokov.
Engelland’s third-period goal, a redirect from a Joe Vitale centering pass, was his first tally in 62 games.
LETANG LOGS BIG MINUTES IN RETURN
Kris Letang made his regular-season debut after missing the first nine games with a lower-body injury. The smooth-skating defenseman made his return to the lineup for the first time since the Eastern Conference Finals, and led the team in ice time, recording 25:32 minutes.
“I felt pretty good,” Letang said after the game. “I mean, a couple mistakes here and there. But (it’s) something (where) I need to get back into it and making sure I make good decisions.”
Letang was featured on the top power-play unit alongside Paul Martin and skated at even strength with defensive partner Rob Scuderi.
MEGNA MAKES NHL DEBUT
Penguins forward Jayson Megna made his NHL debut on Friday night. Megna, 23, went undrafted and was signed by the Penguins in August 2012 after one season at the collegiate level with the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks of the WCHA.
Megna did a nice job acclimating to the speed of the game in limited action while skating on the right wing in a third-line role with Brandon Sutter and Tanner Glass.
“It’s the not the end result I wanted, that the team wanted, but it was a great experience,” Megna said. “It’s a dream come true, really. It was great being out there with these guys, it’s such a great team. There’s so many good players. We didn’t get the result we wanted, but it was definitely a special night.”
* Forward Matt D’Agostini is eligible to come off the long-term injured reserve list on Saturday and can make his season debut when the Penguins take on the Maple Leafs on Saturday evening.
* Zatkoff started in place of starting goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who is expected to get the start in net on Saturday night in Toronto.