ISLANDERS 6 – PENGUINS 3
The Pittsburgh Penguins (26-11-6, 58 pts) had leads of 2-0 in the first period and 3-2 going into the third period, but Kyle Okposo and the New York Islanders (30-13-1, 61 pts) owned the Penguins in period No. 3, en route to a 6-3 win over the Penguins on Friday night.
The Islanders are the first team in the Eastern Conference to 30 wins.
Okposo recorded his first career hat trick and was the star of the night with four goals in the win. Three of Okposo’s four goals came in the third period as the Islanders outscored Pittsburgh 4-0 in the final period.
“We just didn’t raise our level there in the third,” Sidney Crosby said.
Okposo scored the tying goal at 6:42 into the third period with a goal in front and then 5:09 later, put the Islanders ahead when he finished a 3-on-2 rush, burying a feed from Josh Bailey and beating Marc-Andre Fleury from the slot for his 12th goal of the season. Okposo would later add his 13th.
The Islanders dominated the third period, out-shooting the Penguins 16-5 in the third period and showing a dominant possession game, owning the offensive zone. Any possible comeback from the Penguins when trailing 4-3 late was halted when Steve Downie took a retaliatory penalty in breaking his stick over Brock Nelson. Moments earlier Downie was furious after being slashed in front by an Islanders defender and after a breakage in play, Downie has to control his emotions better but the Penguins coaching staff has to be more alert and get him off the ice.
“Not a smart penalty,” Penguins head coach Mike Johnston said. “We can’t take penalties at that point in the game.”
Downie’s penalty made it a four goal night for Okposo when he put in a power play goal with 2:31 remaining to give the Islanders a commanding 5-3 lead. It was lights out for the Penguins and Michael Grabner would add an empty net goal to push the Islanders lead to 6-3.
5 v 5 CONCERNS RISE AGAIN FOR PENGUINS IN MATCHUP WITH ISLANDERS
The Islanders were the more dominant team 5 v 5 in the November home and home series when the Penguins were at full strength and that trend continued again tonight with the teams about even when it came to injuries as Pittsburgh was without Patric Hornqvist, Blake Comeau and the Islanders were missing two important contributors in forward Mikhail Grabovski and defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky.
5 v 5 New York outscored Pittsburgh 4-1, outshot Penguins 26-17 (35-24 overall) and the Islanders had 53 shot attempts to the Penguins 41. New York was credited with 32 scoring chances, Pittsburgh at 21 and overall in the game the Islanders had 73 shot attempts to the Penguins 49.
“We came up big when we had to in the third period,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. “We went back to puck protecting and trying to grind that team down, and we had extensive offensive zone time in the third period.”
Over the last three meetings vs Islanders, the Penguins have 131 shot attempts to 176 against 5 v 5.
Is it a depth issue where the Islanders have a 4th line that they can play against any line and the Penguins don’t?
Tonight it was the Crosby and Sutter lines that had terrible corsi nights and were pinned in their own ends more often than not. A David Perron turnover in the offensive zone and a lazy backcheck from Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz led to the Okposo go-ahead goal.
Another concern for the Penguins that was also exposed in the previous meetings is their ability to defend the Islanders down low and the net-front area. At forward the Penguins still have some help coming but not on the backend, barring a trade.
The Penguins boxing out in front has been improved this season but over a seven game series when teams can exploit them, it remains an area of concern.
“They’re very good at putting pucks to the net and having bodies go there,” defenseman Rob Scuderi said of the Islanders getting to the front of the net. “They created a lot off the scramble.”