PITTSBURGH – On Monday night, Pittsburgh Penguins coach Michel Therrien thought so little of Ryan Whitney’s play that he said the defenceman “cost us the game.”
Three days later, New York Islanders coach Ted Nolan could have thought Whitney played so well he cost New York the game. Whitney had two goals and Kris Letang scored the game-winner with 3:39 to play as the Pittsburgh Penguins handed the Islanders their sixth consecutive loss, 4-3 Thursday night.
“He responded exactly the way I expected. Give him credit,” said Therrien. “He upgraded his game not only offensively – it is great to get two goals tonight – but defensively he was sharp. This is what I want from him.”
Evgeni Malkin had three assists and Ryan Malone also scored for the Penguins, who are 3-1-1 in their past five and tied Philadelphia for first place in the Atlantic Division.
Mike Comrie had two goals and Frederick Meyer two assists for the Islanders, who scored more than two goals for the first time in six games.
Therrien criticized Whitney after a 4-3 overtime loss in New Jersey, telling reporters he was “not aggressive at all.” There was speculation Whitney would not dress for Thursday’s game after the Penguins recalled rookie defenceman Alex Goligoski the following day.
Goligoski was scratched, and Whitney turned in his third career two-goal game and fourth career three-point outing. Whitney scored nine minutes into the game and had three points by the midway point of the game.
“I was pretty excited after that first goal, and I think it’s pretty easy to figure out why,” said Whitney, adding jokingly that Therrien should call him out after every game. “Obviously, you want to bounce back. It was nice to get on the board right there.”
After allowing the Islanders to tie it midway through the third, the Penguins got the winner on an unassisted goal by Letang. Skating down the right boards, the rookie defenceman flipped a wrist shot that appeared to deflect off a defenceman’s stick and went over Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro’s shoulder.
“I just saw the goalie down and the defenceman was backing up so I just tried to put it on net and make something happen,” said Letang, who scored his third of the season.
The Islanders got the first goal 4:31 into the first with a flukey goal when Penguins goalie Ty Conklin misplayed the puck on a clearing attempt in the left-wing corner and was forced to watch helplessly as Andy Hilbert collected it and fed Comrie for his 15th goal of the season. Comrie’s goal, his first in 11 games, was his 300th NHL point.
The Islanders entered the game 17-2-4 when scoring first, but the Penguins negated that less than five minutes later with their first power-play goal. Seconds after DiPietro stopped Ryan Malone’s open shot, Whitney scored his 10th goal of the season after some crisp passing by Malkin and Sykora.
Malone gave the Penguins a 2-1 lead early in the second period when he deflected a Whitney shot from the point out of mid-air and between the pads of DiPietro. Malkin, who won only five of 21 faceoffs three nights earlier in a loss at New Jersey, won a faceoff cleanly to begin the play.
But the Islanders scored again four minutes later when Ruslan Fedotenko beat Conklin on the glove side. Fedotenko was standing in the right slot when he took a feed from Trent Hunter while on the power play for his ninth of the season.
“We wanted to make sure we worked, we competed and we had a good effort, and those things happened tonight.” New York coach Ted Nolan said.
“It’s a game of mistakes, and we made one too many.”
Whitney’s second came 11:33 into the second when he converted a pass from Malkin, backhanding it past DiPietro to give the Penguins a 3-2 lead. It was Pittsburgh’s 10th power-play goal in their past 29 attempts at home.
“We’ve got to shoot the puck, and we did that tonight,” Whitney said. “I think we had seven shots on three power plays. Our power play’s been pretty good lately.”
Comrie’s second tied it with 10:47 left during a power play. With Richard Park stickhandling behind the net, Conklin shuffled back and forth on his knees. Park fed Comrie, who was along the goal line near the left-wing boards, and Comrie flipped a wrist shot up over Conklin’s right shoulder.
“It gets more frustrating every game you lose,” Comrie said. “It’s frustrating right now, we’re close, but when you’re close you’ve just got to work hard.”
Malkin broke a tie with teammate Sidney Crosby for ninth place in the NHL scoring race – Crosby has missed the past eight games with a high ankle sprain – and has 66 points, seven behind league leader Alexander Ovechkin of Washington. Malkin has eight points in his past three games.
Notes: Each team was 2-for-3 on the power play. … Sykora has four points in his past three games. … Mellon Arena was sold out for the 40th consecutive game.