The Pittsburgh Penguins rode two assists from Sidney Crosby and two goals from Kris Letang to a 3-2 win over the New York Islanders Saturday night in Crosby’s 1,000th career NHL game
On the night in which the Penguins, and much of the NHL, celebrated the magnificence of Sidney Crosby, it took the Pens a period as a team to actually come close to that level of play collectively.
The Islanders jumped out to a strong start, and without Tristan Jarry standing tall in net, the first period could have ended 2-0 or 3-0 in the Isles’ favor. If it hadn’t been a night for Crosby, Jarry would have stolen the show. With 33 saves on 35 shots, Jarry kept the Pens in the game long enough for the old dudes to finally start scoring.
With a .920 save percentage in his last five contests, Jarry appears to be returning to form. The Penguins certainly wouldn’t have won without him Saturday night.
Kris Letang scored two long-range goals, including the game-winner, and Sidney Crosby assisted both, as the Penguins did just enough to squeak out a win against the Isles.
Two-thirds of the Penguins’ old core performed well, but Evgeni Malkin had another rather poor game. He’s been hot and cold this season, mostly cold, and the Pens will need him to up his game to keep pace in the East division.
First Period – 0-0
The first period was a disaster for the Penguins, with the Islanders outshooting them 16-4. After the long Crosby tribute to begin the game, which was much deserved and absolutely glorious with video courtesy of the Pens’ Twitter account, the Isles skated on heavily tilted ice in the first.
The Penguins couldn’t sustain any heavy pressure, and outside of an almost vintage Crosby backhander that nearly snuck over Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov’s pads, the Pens didn’t have many high-risk scoring chances. The Islanders had more than their fair share.
Jarry made some timely saves, including stoning Islanders forward Leo Komarov on a two-on-oh chance midway through the period and allowed the Penguins to head into the second period with a fighting chance.
The difference in the way Jarry played the first period, the way he controlled play in the Penguins’ defensive zone, was remarkable. He looks like a brand new player on the ice, and the Penguins have looked like a whole new team.
Second Period – 1-1
Fresh off a period in which the Islanders had four times the Penguins’ shots, the Pens couldn’t play much worse outside of allowing a goal as the second period kicked off.
Kasperi Kapanen and Sam Lafferty rang iron early in the second, and it did feel like the Penguins were just one solid chance away from cashing in on some excellent scoring chances.
Malkin took a weird fall into the boards after Islanders forward Matt Barzal shook off his forecheck, and he didn’t return to the ice immediately in the second period. And as such, the Penguins rolled out some truly odd lineups. A Kapanen-Mark Jankowski-Zach Aston-Reese and Lafferty-Crosby-Guentzel line debuted in the period.
While Jarry struggled early this season with making those timely, game-changing saves, he had no such trouble Saturday night. He stoned 25 shots by the midway point of the second period, and a hooking penalty from Islanders forward Anthony Beauvillier gave the anemic Pens’ power play a chance.
And you know what, the Penguins came out shooting! And, crazy enough, the Pens scored off that approach!!
Crosby ripped a shot on Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov, which bounced back out along the boards. Crosby collected the rebound and swung the puck back up to Malkin at the blue line. Malkin passed the puck along to Letang at the point, who one-timed the puck up and over Varlamov’s blocker for his first goal of the season. It took less than 15 seconds. 1-0, Pens.
However, on a night in which the Penguins seemed to want to allow high-risk odd-man scoring chances, the Islanders cashed in on their treasure trove of shots soon after.
The Malkin line created a 3-on-2 of their own entering the Isles’s zone, but an errant Malkin pass led to a 3-on-2 going the other way. Pierre-Olivier Joseph shadowed Beauvillier as he entered the zone but peeled off to track his side of the ice, and Mike Matheson kind of just did… nothing. Beauviller fed a streaking Jordan Eberle, and the known Penguin killer skated in untouched on Jarry, showed off his patience, evaded Jarry’s poke attempt and buried a rather easy tying goal.
The Penguins sometimes don’t like playing defense, but that goal was particularly uncomfortable to watch.
And just like that, the Penguins and Islanders went into the second intermission break tied at one.
Third Period – 3-2, Pens
The Penguins’ defensive woes continued to start the third period, with a Jason Zucker turnover along the boards creating a chance for the Islanders. With Malkin closer to the Isles’ goal than his own, Isles forward Brock Nelson ripped a shot from near the blue line, which Jarry never saw through his heavy screen, into the back of the net. The Isles led 2-1 less than a minute into the final frame.
The rest of the period was dedicated to much-maligned (one worse than the other) puck-moving Penguins defensemen.
Matheson was Mr. Hyde on that first Islanders’ goal, but he redeemed himself with a Dr. Jekyll show to tie the game midway through the period. Matheson started the rush in the Pens’ defensive zone, skated through the neutral zone and somehow forced a puck on Teddy Blueger’s stick. Blueger found a streaking Matheson in front of the net, and he buried his first goal as a Penguin to even the game at two.
And the seriously maligned Letang scored his second goal of the night, his first two-goal game since 2019, to give the Penguins a lead that would stand until the final horn.
Guentzel collected a puck below the net and fed it to Crosby, who centered the puck to Letang up by the blue line. In the theme of actually getting pucks on net, Letang wristed another long-distance snipe past Varlamov.
The Penguins killed off a late penalty, survived the Islanders’ empty net chances and escaped the two game series with two crucial wins to stay firmly in the playoff hunt early in the season.
What did you think of the Penguins’ come-from-behind win against the Islanders? Let me know in the comments!