Pittsburgh, P. A. – The New York Islanders came into Pittsburgh facing a number of battles this Saturday afternoon. The streaking Penguins were winners of 14 straight, boasting some of the top offensive talent in the league and just added Jarome Iginla for a playoff push that has fans hoping a Stanley Cup is in their future. You would think the Isles, coming off an emotional come from behind victory over the Philadelphia Flyers just two night ago, would have wanted to seize every bit of momentum and pick up monumental points as they chase the final playoff spot in the conference. But at aptly named Consol Energy Center, it was New York who would suffer a blackout, dropping a disappointing game in which the home team did everything they possibly could to hand it over.
It took 87 seconds for the Penguins star 87, Sydney Crosby, to take a deflected shot right in the side of the jaw that would knock him out of action for the remainder of the afternoon. According to sources, there are some video feeds that show Crosby losing teeth as the puck deflects off his lower face and with blood dripping to the ice, he had to helped to the locker room. Given the past concussion problems that he has had to deal with, let’s hope he recovers quickly with no recurrence of those previous symptoms. Coach Dan Blysma had this to say at the post game press conference.
The Isles played a typical road period, holding the Pens vaunted offense, and it is vaunted even without Crosby, to hardly any significant scoring chances. The problem was they really were not generating much of their own at the other end. This afternoon, the Isles offense would consist of alot of one and done, with no second or third rebound chances and not nary a screen in front of started Tomas Vokoun. In the second period, New York would start on the power play and that would become the theme of the game for them and the deciding factor in the loss. The attempt failed but paled in comparison to what would follow later on.
At the 16:23 mark of the second period, Chris Kunitz railed Josh Bailey square in the back about 3 feet from the boards. The Islander forward tumbled forward and crashed head first into the wall, knocking himself out of the game. Kunitz did not seem to argue much about the call, which earned him a 5 minute major and a game misconduct. It would lead to a much more puzzling quote by their head coach, Blsyma, after the game.
Pens coach Dan Bylsma called Kunitz’s check from behind “a shoulder-to-shoulder battle that Chris won.”
— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) March 30, 2013
Now this writer cannot possibly see how that can possibly hold any water. Maybe Dan didn’t see it clear enough? He has played hockey before so I know he knows the rules. Moving on, with 33 seconds left in the period, Kyle Okposo made a nice cut at the Pens blue line, looking to gain entry on the major power play. Brooks Orpik got his stick tied up in Okposo’s feet, bringing about a tripping minor and almost full 2 minute 5 on 3 for the Isles. This was the time to make a statement and put this game that the Pens were handing them away. The period would end with nothing even thrown at the net as the visitors went into the locker room to regroup for the 3rd.
The regrouping obviously did not work, as the power play looked feeble and weak during its entire duration. Alot of moving the puck around the perimeter, no shots and absolutely no traffic in front of the net. However, it would not be the last time the Isles had a chance to put this game in the win column. Almost halfway through, Micheal Grabner, albeit at the end of a long shift, intercepted a horrific pass between the Pens two defenseman and raced in all alone on Vokoun. With all the time in the world, Grabner decided to try to go high blocker and it was easily waffled away into the corner by the Penguins keeper, the true decisive factor in an offensively challenged afternoon for the Isles. Shortly thereafter, Nabakov would fight off a rebound right into the chest of Matt Cooke. As the puck dropped down to Cooke’s feet, he calmly slid it between the pads of the Isles goaltender before he could get into his butterfly. It was a culmination of an excellent afternoon for the Penguins forward, who did a great job on the aforementioned penalty kills then ends up scoring what would turn out to be the game winner. James Neal would benefit five minutes later, screaming down his off wing in a one on one situation and sniping past Nabby for an insurance marker. It was the kind of goal that has defined Neal as one of the top scorers in the game today on a dangerous team.
Coach Jack Capuano would pull his goaltender with 3 minutes left to play in an attempt to finally find some offense. After some pressure, the Pens did not waiver and did not falter, as they held strong in their zone and cleared when they had to, securing their 3rd straight shutout and 15th consecutive win. If you are an Islanders fan, this one is tough to stomach. With so many opportunities, and the Penguins clearly hurting without defenseman Kris Letang, starting goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, then losing Crosby and Kunitz in this game, it was two points that the Isles should have collected. But alas, it was just not meant to be on this day and it is crucial for the continued maturation of the team that they bury this one as soon as possible. With the Devils dropping a huge point to Tampa Bay last night and the Rangers still in disarray, the playoffs are still in their control. And looking ahead at the upcoming slate of games, there are some huge ones coming up. New Jersey on Monday, Winnipeg on Tuesday and Washington on Thursday. Get on the charter or bus, put the headphones on and go to sleep. Dream about anything other than this game, knowing that the end result did nothing to knock you from anything just yet. Then take the ice Monday in Newark against a team whom we have had alot of success against, especially this year, and also hurting without their leading scorer, Ilya Kovalchuk, and just win.
One Man On An Island
* 3 Stars – Cooke (PIT), Neal (PIT), Vokoun (PIT)
* Shots ended up 35-27 Islanders, but as stated earlier, many of those were relatively harmless without any second or third chances.
* The struggling Isles power play was once again blanked, going 0 for 3.
* Isles were dominated in two areas, in the faceoff circle (losing 39, winning 22) and hits (30 for Pitt, only 12 for NY)
* Waiting for an update on Josh Bailey, as coach Capuano said after the game did not appear to have suffered a concussion. But as we all know, its going to be tomorrow morning that is more telling for the Isles winger.
* Isles are finalizing a deal to send super prospect Ryan Strome to Bridgeport for the rest of the American Hockey League season. I do not think there is any chance we see him in an Islanders jersey this year. That is not typical of the way the front office operates and more than likely Nino would get the recall if any serious injury did occur.
Thanks for reading and enjoy the rest of your holiday weekend!
Follow us on Twitter…
@eyesonisles (Rich Diaz)
@moosiestmoose42 (Scotty Bonner)