The Islanders are a young, skilled group that is right there in the battle for a playoff spot. But on Saturday night in Pittsburgh, they got absolutely dominated by the high-powered Penguins.
Despite missing Evgeni Malkin, who missed the game with an upper-body injury and will be out 1-2 weeks per coach Dan Bylsma, the NHL’s top-ranked offense lit up the Islanders six times to come away with a 6-1 victory and extend their win streak to five games. Chris Kunitz scored his fourth career hat trick, Pascal Dupuis scored twice and James Neal tallied once for the Penguins. Sidney Crosby finished with five assists, tying a single-game career-high.
Tomas Vokoun got his first win on home ice. The Penguins chased Evgeni Nabokov from the net after two periods, with Kevin Poulin replacing him for the third.
Pittsburgh’s offense seems like it scores at will, but perhaps the most important takeaway from tonight was the Penguins’ defense. They held the Islanders to just 10 shots through the first two periods and 24 overall, keeping them from getting sustained shifts in the offensive zone.
That’s because the Penguins spent the majority of the game in their offensive zone. The extended time there was key to the win, as they wore the Islanders down and kept them from establishing any momentum.
“We’re happy with the game we played tonight," Dupuis said. "We’re also happy with only allowing one goal. Lately, yes, we’ve been scoring goals, but defensively I don’t think we’ve been as good as we want to and tonight with that effort, we have to be pleased.”
Vokoun did a great job of describing the Penguins' effort tonight.
"Sid has been playing unbelievable the last bunch of games," he said. "He's hitting his stride. Obviously Kuni is playing great all year. We have a great team. We've just got play the way we need to play to win. When we do that, it's hard to play with us. We didn't even have Geno today and look at what we did. Saying that, we're aware (what will happen) if we don't play the right way no matter how skilled you are. You're leaving yourself open to 50-50 games. Usually when you do that, bad things happen."
Not only did Kunitz score a hat trick, but he got two assists as well to give him his first career five-point game. Kunitz now has goals in six of his last seven games and points in 16 of his last 19 appearances. Overall, he has 12 goals, 36 points and a plus-21 rating through 26 games.
More on Kunitz’s monstrous effort here
I don’t think it’s any question whether Kunitz, Crosby and Dupuis are the best line in the NHL right now, as the three of them combined for five goals and 12 points on Sunday night.
All three players have now hit double digits in goals through 26 games – Kunitz has 17, Crosby has 12 and Dupuis has 11. As a line, the three of them all bring something different to the ice and their styles have always been complementary, as they read off each other and grinding teams down on the forecheck.
They’ve all had individual hot streaks while playing together, but I don’t think the three of them have all produced offensively like this simultaneously since they were first put together at the start of the 2010-11 season.
“I probably play with the best center in the league right now and if you look at what Chris Kunitz is doing right now, he’s obviously a top player in this league," Dupuis said. "So it’s great to play with those two guys.”
Neal is known for his finishing ability. But in addition to scoring a goal tonight against the Islanders, he displayed some acumen at setting up his teammates while Kunitz continued his torrid run at finding the back of the net.
Neal earned the primary assist on both of Kunitz’s first period power-play goals – the first one coming right as a 5-on-3 advantage expired, the second one coming a few minutes later 5-on-4 – helping the Penguins take a 3-0 lead into the first intermission.
"Really nice," Kunitz said of Neal's playmaking ability on Sunday. "The 5-on-3, we practiced it a lot. I don’t ever usually get those passes, but I got good position on the guy and ‘Nealer’ had good position on the guy to throw it to the net and put it on my stick. The other one, he was driving hard off a neutral zone, burst into the zone with speed and got the puck over to him. He made a nice play back."
After tonight, Kunitz and Neal are now tied for the team lead in goals with 17 each. Their combined 34 goals are the most between any two teammates this season, ahead of Islanders duo John Tavares (16) and Matt Moulson (11) with 27.
The Wizard of Cros, Sid the Kid, the Next One. Call him whatever you want, but the idea remains the same: Sidney Crosby is nearly unstoppable.
That was made evident yet again Sunday, when the Penguins captain put up a five-assist performance in Pittsburgh’s 6-1 win over the Islanders at CONSOL Energy Center.
Sunday marked the second time Crosby has had a five-assist performance and the fifth time he’s had a five-point performance in his eight-year NHL career. Crosby’s last three five-point games have all come against the Islanders.Full story here
Malkin suffered an upper-body injury late in the third period of Saturday’s win over Toronto and did not play on Sunday against the Islanders.
Coach Dan Bylsma said before the game that he would be re-evaluated but that he was not concerned it was a concussion. After the game, Bylsma provided another update.
“He will be out approximately 1-2 weeks,” Bylsma said.
With Malkin out, Dustin Jeffrey slotted into his spot between Beau Bennett and Neal, Brandon Sutter remained between Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy and Joe Vitale played on the fourth line with Craig Adams and Tanner Glass.
In addition, defenseman Deryk Engelland was a healthy scratch for the first time this season. The Penguins pairings looked like this: Brooks Orpik-Paul Martin, Mark Eaton-Kris Letang, Simon Despres-Matt Niskanen.
ANOTHER STRONG START
The Islanders recorded three shots on goal in the first 1:19 minutes of play after gaining the offensive zone off the opening faceoff.
From there on out, the Penguins completely smothered their opponent. The Islanders managed to get just one puck to the net in the remaining 18:41 of the period.
The Penguins dominated the opening frame, outshooting the Islanders 12-4 and taking a 3-0 lead into the first intermission.
It helped that the Penguins got three power-play opportunities, as they converted two of them. But they got that success a night after their power play struggled on Saturday in Toronto, going scoreless on four opportunities.
"They definitely came out hard," Kunitz acknowleged. "I think our first two shifts, maybe three, were in our zone. They were hunting. Guys stayed composed, our goalie made a few saves for us and we got to our game. Put pucks deep, went in there and got on the power play. The rest is history."
Author: Michelle Crechiolo