There is something in the water when the Pens and Islanders get together.
Thursday night’s contest in Long Island followed the typical script. It was an up-and-down pond hockey style of game with a lot of goals, excitement, entertainment and drama.
The Penguins scored four straight goals to take a 4-2 lead and then had to hold off a ferocious Islanders' comeback, something New York had been able to accomplish nine times in their previous 13 games.
But Pittsburgh held strong and left Long Island with a 6-4 victory at Nassau Coliseum.
“We scored enough to win,” Matt Niskanen said. “That team really pressures you and they know how to score. We did enough battle at the end to hold on.”
The Penguins were clinging to a 5-4 lead when the Islanders received a glorious opportunity to tie it with 8:16 to play. Letang was called for hooking, giving New York a power play. But then 1:10 later, Tanner Glass tripped John Tavares to give New York a 5-on-3 advantage for 50 seconds and an additional power play following.
Pittsburgh was able to kill off both penalties and escape unscathed. But it was a major moment in the game that the Penguins' penalty kill unit, which ranks first in the NHL, came through in the clutch against the best players on a talented and dynamic offensive team.
“The last five minutes of the game was a crucial time and we knew what we had to do,” Brandon Sutter said. “Lately we’ve done a good job killing penalties. Getting that in the last few minutes was a confidence booster.”
Brooks Orpik, Craig Adams and Sutter handled the duties over the boards.
“They did a great job out there against five of the most talented guys out there on a 5-on-3,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “Those guys did a great job in that regard. We were able to kill both penalties off and preserve the win.”
Goaltender Jeff Zatkoff saved the game with his toe when he made a split-pad save on Frans Nielsen on a cross-crease pass at the side of the net.
“I told the guys I owed them that one after I let that fourth one in, it just snuck through,” Zatkoff said. “I was going to have to make a big save to keep us in it. I was able to get a piece of that. But that’s really all they had. Guys cleared everything out of there. The penalty killers did a great job.”
D PITCHING IN
In a 5-1 win against the Montreal Canadiens Wednesday night, every Penguins defender registered at least one point (seven total). Less than 24 hours later in Long Island the blueliners chipped in once again.
Led by Olli Maatta’s goal and assist, Pittsburgh’s defensemen combined for five points (2G-3A) in the contest. In the last five games, the Penguins have scored 18 goals for 49 total points. And the Pens' blue line picked up 20 of those points (41 percent).
“We need scoring from all four lines and all six D,” Maatta said. “That’s what we got tonight.”
Niskanen has been the team’s most consistent point producer of late. With his two assists, he extended his career-long points streak to six games for nine total points (2G-7A). Niskanen also has 17 points (6G-11A) in his last 16 games.
Niskanen was a plus-3 in the game. He now leads the NHL with a plus-29 rating.
ODDS AND ENDS
- Crosby entered the game leading the NHL with 69 points. He held a seven-point lead over second place John Tavares. Crosby put up three points in the game to Tavares’ one. Crosby now has 72 points on the season (27G-45A) and a nine-point lead on the rest of the league.
- His linemate Kunitz continues to pile up points. With his 25th goal of the season, Kunitz is now one tally short of tying a his career high for a season (26, set in 2011-12).
- Zatkoff extended his unbeaten streak to nine games (8-0-1). His streak began with his first career NHL shutout/win in Columbus on Nov. 2.
Author: Sam Kasan