Recap: Game 12 – Penguins vs. Islanders

Evgeni Malkin, Dustin Jeffrey and other members of the Pittsburgh Penguins warm up in purple jerseys in honour of the kick off of 'Hockey Fights Cancer.' (Courtesy of Getty Images.)

It was a hockey night in Pittsburgh as the Penguins took the ice to battle it out with the New York Islanders for the second time this season, the second time this week and the second time in just two days. The Pens donned purple sweaters for the NHL’s ‘Hockey Fights Cancer’ initiative during warm up but returned to the ice in their 2011 Winter Classic jerseys to face the Isles in the end of the home-on-home series.

The Penguins would start off the first period on a strong note, maintaining puck possession and keeping the Isles within their own zone.  With just 11:39 left in the first period, it appeared the Pens had lit the lamp first courtesy of forward Jordan Staal. Staal cleared himself some space in the slot and snapped off a wrist shot that found it’s way past Isles goaltender Evgeni Nabokov and teammate Matt Cooke who was working to establish a net-front presence. The goal, however, was immediately waved off as the referee called goalie interference on Cooke even though it

Jordan Staal looks up at the scoreboard seconds after his first period goal was called off for goalie interference. (Courtesy of Getty Images.)

appeared that Cooke had no contact with the Isles net-minder. Ten minutes later it would be the Isles netting the first of the night courtesy of Frans Nielsen (1:01) picking up teammate Mark Streit’s rebound and shuffling it past Pens net-minder Marc-Andre Fleury. The Pens would thus head into the second down 1-0.

The second period started on a tense note when Staal, following a collision with the Isles John Tavares, went straight to the bench, grimacing in pain, before taking off down the runway. He would return less than four minutes later, in what appeared to be good health. The period would wind down without either team earning an opportunity to get one up on the board, but the Pens would outshoot the Isles 13-9. (They has some good chances and applied excellent pressure but just couldn’t convert.)

Just forty-five seconds into the third, the Isles would gain a two goal lead when Matt Martin would be given the opportunity to stuff a rebound past Fleury. That would not sit well with the Pens and less than a minute later, they would respond. Following a beautiful set-up by Kris Letang that saw the puck rocket toward the net before re-directing to Pascal Dupuis and then coming to him, it would be forward Chris Kunitz putting the Pens on the board with a wrist shot into the wide-open net.  A minute following Kunitz’s goal, the Isles would be forced to kill a penalty

Chris Kunitz celebrates his third period goal with some of his teammates. (Courtesy of Getty Images.)

when Kyle Okposo was called for interference and this would provide the Pens with the opportunity they needed to tie the game. In a beautiful form of tic-tac-toe on the ice, Evgeni Malkin would sail a pass to Kunitz from the half-wall who would, in turn, pass it right to James Neal would then send it behind Nabokov, leaving the goalie looking for the puck and earning Neal his ninth of the season. Despite peppering the Isles goaltender with shots in the dying five, the Pens would be unable to gain a lead and, as such, the game would head into overtime.

The five minute overtime period would pass relatively quickly with a lot of back and forth play by both teams. With just 0:34 left in the extra five, the Pens would head to the power play as the Isles’ Streit would be called for a trip on Pens d-man Kris Letang. The Pens, however, would be unable to capitalize and the game was then headed to a shoot out.

Shooting first for Pittsburgh, Kris Letang was denied by Rick DiPietro who was called in to play the shoot out for a fatigued Nabokov.  Frans Nielsen, sent out for the Isles, would be unable to put one past Fleury. Next up for the Pens was Evgeni Malkin who would tuck the puck into a tiny opening, squeaking it past a diving DiPietro. Fleury would glove the attempt of the Isles J.P. Parenteau. James Neal would be denied by DiPietro  and Fleury would follow suit, denying John Tavares. Ultimately, it would be Evgeni Malkin winning the game for his team and earning the extra point.

Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal celebrate the Penguins 3-2 shootout victory over the New York Islanders (Courtesy of Getty Images.)

Kris Letang led all skaters with 30:16 of ice time, followed closely by Evgeni Malkin with 26:36.  James Neal riffled off 6 shots while Kunitz fired 5 of his own. Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 17 of the 19 shots he faced while the Pens fired 32 in the direction of Nabokov.

The Penguins continue to move forward this season despite the absence of captain Sidney Crosby. Forward Tyler Kennedy remains sidelined with a concussion sustained almost two weeks ago while defenceman Zbynek Michalek is expected to be out for at least four weeks with a broken finger.  James Neal continues to remain locked in a race with Toronto’s Phil Kessel for the title of leading scorer in the league with nine goals. With tonight’s win behind them, the Pens now sit first in the league with a record of 8-2-2 and 18 points. (Pittsburgh has played a total of 12 games so far this season, the most in the league.) As such, they also lead both the Eastern Conference and the Atlantic Division.

The Penguins will travel to Toronto where they will come head-to-head with the Maple Leafs on Saturday. (Can you hear Neal and Kessel singing “Anything you can do, I can do better, I can do anything better than you?”) Puck drop goes at 7:00pm at the Air Canada Center.

Three Stars:
1. Chris Kunitz
2. Evgeni Malkin
3. Matt Martin