The Islanders capitalized on a late power play goal from captain Anders Lee to finish off the Penguins, 4-3, in a back-and-forth contest Saturday night in New York.
Despite the first career NHL goal for stud defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph, the Penguins took a lead, blew a lead, battled back, retook the lead and lost the lead on the back of two third period Islanders goals—capped off by a game-winning power play goal from Lee.
So, all in all, the Penguins haven’t really changed a thing this season. Even with four full days off after the postponement of both games against the New Jersey Devils this past week.
It would be easy to blame goaltender Tristan Jarry, who gave up four goals on 26 shots, and while he was pretty subpar, the Penguins’ struggles are deeper than just poor goaltending.
The Penguins team defense still isn’t up to par through 11 games now—about a fifth of the way through the season—and it doesn’t appear that the Pens will be getting any better. Yes, defensemen Brian Dumoulin and Marcus Pettersson are out, and the Pens haven’t had much defensive consistency, but there are no excuses for the play of defenseman Mike Matheson.
Matheson, who is being paid $4.875 million through the 2025-26 season, did not impress in his Penguins debut. He may have been worse against the Islanders.
On the second Isles goal of the night, Matheson attempted to clear the puck near the Pens’ blue line, firing a pass off the boards, which forward Jason Zucker could not handle. The Islanders regained possession of the puck, re-entered the zone, and Isles forward Michael Dal Colle was able to thread a puck past the swatting stick of Matheson, feeding fellow forward Brock Nelson. Nelson fired a shot off Jarry, who could not contain the rebound, and Isles forward Jordan Eberle netted his second goal of the contest.
The Penguins’ first allowed goal was a disaster, too. Forward Drew O’Connor couldn’t get the puck deep from the neutral zone and turned it over. Dal Colle picked up the pick just inside the Penguins’ zone and fed the puck to Eberle, who skated right around defenseman Cody Ceci and roofed a backhand goal over Jarry’s blocker.
It would be remiss to not mention Nelson cutting off defenseman Chad Ruhwedel at the blue line, allowing Dal Colle to collect the puck and feed Nelson.
Was the goal soft? Yes. Was the team defense soft? Yes, again.
Enough of the bad. The Penguins weren’t actually all bad against the Isles.
Joseph continued his meteoric rise, netting his first goal as a Penguin, with video courtesy of the Penguins’ Twitter account:
Joseph started the rush, exiting his own zone and firing a pass to forward Jake Guenztel, who dropped a pass back to the streaking Joseph. The rookie defender collected the pass, skated toward the goal and sniped a beautiful wrister bar down on Isles’ goaltender Semyon Varlamov.
It was a well-deserved goal for Joseph, who has consistently pushed play and contributed offensively since being promoted to the Penguins’ main roster in January. However, even Joseph found himself mired in the poor defensive play in Saturday’s loss.
The Islanders’ third goal came as the result of possibly a miscommunication and Letang over-extending his reach and getting out of position, as Letang and Joseph doubled Isles forward Casey Cizikas behind the net, leaving Isles forward Cal Clutterbuck alone in front of the net. Shockingly, Clutterbuck buried a wide open feed from Cizikas and knotted the game at three.
Somewhat surprisingly, maybe perhaps fittingly, neither the Penguins nor Isles drew a power play until late in the third period when forward Teddy Blueger flung a puck over the boards and drew a delay of game penalty with about four minutes left in the third period.
The Isles power play overwhelmed the Penguins penalty kill, spending an entire minute in the Pens’ zone, before eventually setting up a one-timer from Isles’ defender Ryan Pulock. Pulock’s blast squeezed through Jarry’s five hole and no Penguin was able to clear it before Lee could poke the puck home for the game-winner with just a few ticks over two and a half minutes remaining.
The Penguins pulled Jarry but were unable to generate a serious rush with six men on the ice before the clock expired, ending the Isles’ 0-3-2 losing streaking and cementing the Pens’ 1-3-1 losing streak.
Besides Joseph’s snipe, the Penguins received goal contributions from forwards Evgeni Malkin and Jake Guentzel.
Malkin and fellow forward Kasperi Kapanen combined for a beautiful team goal very late in the second period, with Malkin forcing a turnover on a pass from Nelson, Kapanen collecting the puck and feeding Malkin, who buried a beautiful snap shot over Varlamov’s glove hand with just 15 seconds left in the second period.
With the game tied at two entering the third period, the Crosby line wasted no time capitalizing on one of their many chances throughout the game.
The Penguins got the puck in deep, with forward Bryan Rust winning a puck battle around the goal line and feeding captain Sidney Crosby, who protected the puck long enough to feed a pass to Guenztel. Jake the Snake snapped a shot past Varlamov, giving the Penguins a 3-2 lead.
The Penguins’ top line was especially good against the Isles, generating chance after chance. Rust led the team with eight shots, and it felt like he could’ve had a couple of goals, but he just couldn’t solve Varlamov.
We all now know what happened next.
The Penguins lost another game they probably should have won, dropping to 5-5-1 on the season. The Pens are now a sparkling 4-0 at home and a dismal 1-5-1 on the road.
The Penguins don’t seem to be able to defend… anything. Jarry simply has to start making some big saves at this point. It’s tough to blame him, but he simply must be better. The offense will score at least three goals a game all season, but with the volatility of the defense and goaltending… who knows.
With the New Jersey Devils still struggling with COVID protocols, the Penguins’ Feb. 9 contest has been postponed. The Pens’ next contest is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 11 against the Islanders in New York again.