Pittsburgh Penguins Overwhelm New York Islanders

Apr 2, 2016; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Oskar Sundqvist (40) celebrates his goal during the first period against the New York Islanders at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 2, 2016; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Oskar Sundqvist (40) celebrates his goal during the first period against the New York Islanders at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports /

The Pittsburgh Penguins were missing one of their key players, if not their most important player, in netminder Marc-Andre Fleury, as they visited Brooklyn to take on the New York Islanders. The Islanders were looking to remain in contention for the playoffs, while the Penguins were looking to lock-up their spot.

The Pittsburgh Penguins were without Marc-Andre Fleury who was recently diagnosed with a concussion. Fleury had not been feeling well, and after going to see team doctors on Friday, he received the concussion diagnosis. This will be Fleury’s second absence this season due to a head injury. Fleury had post-concussion symptoms in December of 2015 and subsequently missed eight games.

So Matt Murray took to the net and was backed up by Jeff Zatkoff. Murray looked good in the first period, turning away all Islanders. An absolute blast by John Tavares was stopped by Murray, and though it did trickle through his pads after being stopped, Ben Lovejoy was there to swipe the puck away from the net.

Not long after Murray’s jersey seemed to get in the way of a puck sent to the net by Kyle Okposo which ultimately hit the goalpost, the Islanders’ goaltender, Jean-Francois Berube, attempted to pass the puck to his defenseman. There was a mis-communication however, and the puck wound up floating to open ice. The Pens’ Oskar Sundqvist was there to take advantage of the miscue and ripped the puck past Berube to give the Penguins the 1-0 lead, while shorthanded. That was Sundqvist’s first career NHL goal.  

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At 17:05 of the first, Matt Martin of the Islanders got called for boarding on Justin Schultz. Ian Cole took objection and was called for roughing. Cole’s ire with the play became more evident when he dropped the gloves with Martin after they both came out of the box. Martin is a bruiser and got the better of the punches in the scrap, but you have to hand it to Cole for sticking up for his teammate. Cole has been one of the Pens players who won’t let his team be pushed around this season.

The game, which had somewhat of a playoff atmosphere, got pretty chippy. At 12:51 of the second, Kris Letang went at it with Nikolay Kulemin. They didn’t quite get to fisticuffs as the referee stepped in, but the intent was there. Kulemin got a double-minor, for roughing and slashing, while Letang served two for roughing.

The powerplay would prove fruitful for the Pens. On a play where Sidney Crosby would record his 600th career assist, number 87 sent a pass across ice to Justin Schultz near the blue line. Schultz blasted the puck which was subsequently tipped by Patric Hornqvist for goal number two.  

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At 15:30 of the second, the Pens would go up by three goals. After Eric Fehr kept the puck in the Islanders’ zone with a nice block, Tom Kuhnhackl got the biscuit over to veteran pivot Matt Cullen. Cullen made a deliberate move and lifted the puck top-shelf to give the Pens the 3-0 margin. That’s the way the score would remain through two periods of play.

Although the Islanders only had 16 shots on goal through two periods, Matt Murray handled those 16 shots with aplomb. He didn’t allow rebounds. No second chances for the Islanders.

Just past the halfway mark of the third period the Islanders left a pass sitting in the neutral zone which Phil Kessel gladly picked up. As he quickly skated into the Isles’ zone on a one-on-one, I had the feeling that the score would soon be 4-0. Sure enough, Phil took a hard wrister which got through the glove of Berube and the Pens led the game by four.  

The Pens would create a five-goal deficit for the Islanders at 15:01 of the third. Berube tried to corral a puck but it squeaked out from underneath his pad. Tom Kuhnhackl was there to scoop the puck up and easily flip it in for the 5-0 Penguins lead.

In the end, the Pittsburgh Penguins secured their spot in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. They did so without Marc-Andre Fleury in net. They’ll need to keep playing like this, in Fleury’s absence, to keep the momentum going the right way. Murray looked excellent, which is a hugely positive sign for the Pens at this juncture. Getting him some NHL experience earlier this season is certainly looking like a wise move right now.