Kris Letang scored his second goal of the game with less than 30 seconds left in OT to lift to the Pittsburgh Penguins past the New York Islanders, 4-3, Saturday night
Kristopher Joseph Pierre Irwin Letang, the First of His Name, Protector of the Blue Line, Warden of the East (Division), Scorer of Two Goals. Long may he reign.
Yes, that’s right, Letang has scored two goals for the second time in his last four games. He scored a goal reminiscent of his 2016 Stanley Cup-winning goal in San Jose, and he scored a beautiful overtime winner with 26 seconds left in the contest.
It wasn’t a perfect night for Letang, or anyone on the Penguins, but it was a continuation of the really solid play from Letang over the past month. Letang’s early season struggles were more to do with his decision-making than his skating declining. With four goals and seven points in the past four games, Letang may be finally rounding into mid-season form. And if that’s the case, the Pens may finally be a complete team.
Well… maybe once they figure out the team defense and special teams issues. Which… are deep.
The Penguins’ power play went 1-for-5 on the night, with the one goal coming more from an Islanders’ error than a Penguins’ created chance. Whatever, still a goal, but the power play generated as many chances for the Isles as it did for the Pens.
Something has got to change, right? You can’t just keep throwing the top power play unit out on the ice and expect goals to follow.
With three goals allowed on 27 shots, Jarry’s .889 save percentage doesn’t jump off the page. Unless you watch the game. And then you wonder how it was only an .899. The game could have easily been 5-2 or 6-2, Islanders, entering the third period. Jarry stood on his head at times to keep the Pens in the contest, and the goals he allowed stemmed from poor team defense… which is an unwelcomed trend.
However, the Penguins did score four goals, even if it took overtime and a point for the Isles to get there, and won the game! A win against a very good Isles’ team is huge, but at some point, the Pens are going to have to stop giving points away in overtime.
Maybe I’m being negative, but the Penguins did pick up the win and stay in a tie for fourth in the division. AND they haven’t played the Buffalo Sabres or New Jersey Devils yet, but they do have three straight games against the Philadelphia Flyers next week after the Islanders again.
Regardless, the Penguins won and that’s always nice.
First Period – 1-0, Islanders
The Penguins could have learned something from the Islanders after the first period.
The Islanders only received one power play in the game, compared to the Penguins’ five…., but they only needed 30 seconds to capitalize.
Cody Ceci went to the box on an interference call against Islanders forward Anders Lee, which was kind of suspect, but a chance for the Isles nonetheless. On the ensuing chance, the Pens couldn’t clear the zone, Islanders forward Oliver Wahlstrom received a pass along the boards and wristed a pass in on net to his wide open teammate Brock Nelson, who deflected it up and over Jarry to open the scoring. It was a tough start to the game for Marcus Pettersson, who did not play well.
However, the Islanders put pucks on net, had a man stationed in front of the net, and put a puck into the back of the net without wasting 15 passes.
The Penguins’ first power play of the game created no real chances because they didn’t put a single puck on net. In fact, the best chance of the power play came from the Islanders, on a play in which Jarry made a huge save to keep the game scoreless.
The second Penguins’ power play was a bit better, with four shots on net, but the Pens couldn’t put a puck past Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov still.
The first period ended in a deficit, despite an outstanding period from Jarry and double the power play chances.
Second Period – 3-2, Isles
The second period was… a lot to unpack.
It started with Islanders forward Mat Barzal continuing to be the fastest man alive, just skating circles around the Pens. Barzal faked out Brandon Tanev, skated around John Marino, who played admirable defense, and sent a puck ricochetting off Marino’s stick into the back of the net.
A tough bounce for Jarry and Marino, but it was 2-0 for the Islanders with virtually no momentum for the Penguins.
Not until Pierre-Olivier Jospeh drew the Penguins’ third power play chance of the night, and this time, they got lucky. Varlamov slipped for some reason, tumbling onto the ice, and Sidney Crosby slapped a shot past everyone into the back of the net to halve the Isles’ lead.
26 seconds later, Kasperi Kapanen made a nice play behind the Islanders’ net, switching over to his backhand and feeding Letang in front of the net, who blasted a shot past Varlamov, who was basically hiding in his net. Weird sequence for Varlamov, but the Pens scored two goals off it.
Another uneventful power play passed for the Penguins, and the Islanders capitalized on a beautiful passing play to tie the game back up.
With Pettersson chasing up near the blue line, his man completely lost, Letang was stuck with a two-on-one chance down in front of the goal, after Nelson fired a pass down onto Islanders forward Anthony Beauvillier’s tape. Letang attempted to break up the pass, his stick on the ice, but Beauvillier found teammate Josh Bailey, who slapped a shot up and over Jarry. 3-2, Isles, now.
It was a very poor game from Pettersson, and the Letang-Pettersson pairing did not look good.
With that goal around the six minutes remaining mark of the period, the Islanders doubled down and completely dominated offensive zone time, peppering Jarry with shots. If not for an inspired effort from Jarry, the Isles could snuck another goal or two past the Pens before the period was over.
With that Islanders’ surge held off, the Penguins went into the final period down just one goal.
Third Period – 3-3, tie
Down one goal for less than 20 seconds.
The Islanders couldn’t handle a puck just inside their offensive zone, Evgeni Malkin was flying and picked up the puck in the neutral zone to create a two-on-one entering the Isles’ zone. Geno fed a beautiful pass across the ice to Jared McCann, who snapped the puck past Varlamov to tie the game at three.
With Crosby still in the locker room having his skate fixed, Geno received the opening puck drop, and it paid off for the Penguins.
The third period escaped without much consequence, the Penguins picking up another power play and not scoring (shockingly), and the Pens renewing their urgency as time winded down toward the end of the game.
Bryan Rust made a play to get a puck to Jake Guentzel in the zone, took a hit and received the puck again from Guentzel to pick up a one-on-one chance with Varlamov late in the contest. Rust roofed his chance over the goal, so the chance never technically counted, but the Penguins and Islanders went to overtime… again.
With back and forth play, strong chances from both sides and better saves from both sides, Letang eventually picked the puck up off a feed from Crosby in the defensive zone, and he did the rest. Letang led the rush, entering the zone and firing a puck on net, using Islanders forward Jean Gabriel Pageau as a screen and a reflection, past Varlamov for the game-winner.
It was the capping of a very, very solid contest for Letang and a very, very gusty win for the Penguins.
If you didn’t get enough Penguins-Islanders action Saturday night, that’s okay. Because they play against Sunday evening at 5:00 p.m. As always, AT&T SportsNet holds local coverage, and ESPN+ holds the broader coverage for a fee.