PITTSBURGH, Pa. – The Pittsburgh Penguins admit they have a tendency to get so enamoured with their own firepower they forget to do the little things.
Like, say, play defence.
Sometimes they can get away with it. Tuesday night wasn’t one of those times.
Frans Nielsen scored twice and the New York Islanders broke a 13-game losing streak in Pittsburgh with a 5-3 win, effectively counterattacking when the Penguins got a little too aggressive.
“We got what we deserved tonight,” Pittsburgh centre Sidney Crosby said.
Michael Grabner, David Ullstrom and Kyle Okposo also scored, and Josh Bailey had three assists to help the Islanders end Pittsburgh’s 10-game home winning streak with ease.
“It’s good to know we can win in this building,” Nielsen said.
The Islanders never had in their previous trips to Consol Energy Center. They hadn’t won in the Steel City since Dec. 21, 2007 when the Penguins were playing across the street in the Civic Arena.
James Neal scored twice for the Penguins—who lost despite outshooting the Islanders 54-25—and Tyler Kennedy added a goal while Evgeni Malkin had two assists to push his point total to an NHL-leading 99.
Marc-Andre Fleury gave up five goals on 18 shots before being replaced in the third by Brad Thiessen. Fleury was shaken up after colliding with teammate Paul Martin during Nielsen’s second goal but said he’s fine and should be OK when the teams meet again on Thursday.
The sooner the Penguins can get back on the ice, the better. They hoped a home-and-home set with the lowly Islanders would provide four easy points in their chase of the New York Rangers for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Pittsburgh trails the Rangers by three points with six games left in the regular season.
Pittsburgh has dominated the Islanders over the last few years, the two points earned for a victory a nearly foregone conclusion. Pittsburgh came in 18-2-2 in its last 22 games against New York and hadn’t lost to the Islanders in more than four years.
New York hadn’t put up much of a fight this season no matter the venue. The Penguins won all four previous meetings, including Crosby’s spectacular four-point night in his season debut on Nov. 21.
Yet with Pittsburgh streaking toward the playoffs trying to track down the Rangers, the Islanders were in no mood to roll over.
Evgeni Nabokov stopped 30 of 32 shots before leaving at the start of the third period with a lower-body injury. Al Montoya stayed busy in relief, turning aside 21 or 22 shots as the Islanders wrapped up a season-long road trip with an impressive 4-1 record.
“We’ve been playing well lately but we knew this game and the next game is a going to be a good test to see where the team is standing and how good we are because Pittsburgh is a good hockey team,” Nielsen said.
Even if the Penguins didn’t particularly play like it.
Nielsen took advantage off a long rebound off the end boards to drill the puck into a wide-open net just 3:12 in to give New York an early lead. Pittsburgh swarmed Nabokov early, yet the veteran turned away every opportunity and Grabner made it 2-0 when his wrist shot beat Fleury with just 3 seconds left in the period.
“That second goal we gave up was kind of tough to take,” Orpik said. “I think just the approach of trying to outscore teams rather than outdefend teams is starting to catch up to us.”
Even if Pittsburgh appeared to snap back to life in the second period, erasing the deficit when Kennedy and Neal scored within a span of 3 minutes. Suddenly Pittsburgh was rolling while the Islanders were, well, looking like the Islanders.
Only this time instead of folding, New York steadied itself then ripped off three goals in a span of 6 minutes late in the period behind an effective counter attack and some weird bounces.
Okposo put the Islanders back in front when a pass to the point hopped over Orpik’s stick, smacked into the boards at centre ice and stopped. Okposo streaked by Orpik and flicked a wrister by Fleury.
Ullstrom’s power-play goal put New York up 4-2 and Nielsen capped the outburst by deking past Fleury on a breakaway that ended with Fleury’s mask rolling to the boards after smacking into Martin.
“It was a character period for us,” Bailey said.
Fleury got up slowly and shook his head as he skated to retrieve his mask. He finished the period but spent the final 20 minutes on the bench as Pittsburgh tried to rally.
It never happened. Neal scored his 37th goal with just under 5 minutes to play but the Penguins would get no closer.
NOTES: Crosby, who had 20 points in his last seven games against New York, was held without a point. … Pittsburgh D Ben Lovejoy is out 3-4 weeks after having arthroscopic surgery on his knee. He will likely miss the team’s first-round playoff series. … Pascal Dupuis assisted on Kennedy’s goal to extend his points streak to 11 games, the longest active streak in the NHL. … The two teams meet at Nassau Coliseum on Thursday … The Islanders completed their season-long five-game road trip with a 4-1 record.