It was a thrilling game in Long Island between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New York Islanders that ultimately resulted in a 4-3 Penguins victory. A fast-paced, electric atmosphere between two teams with a rich history did not disappoint with several highlight-reel goals, and yet another Pens comeback win.
Although New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently announced that fans will be permitted to attend games in the state at a limited capacity, the game at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum took place behind closed doors. Despite an empty arena, the two sides put on an especially entertaining game. The Pens went back to Casey DeSmith in goal who seemed a bit shaky off the bat but settled and found his groove as the game progressed. The Isles jumped out to an early lead when Casey Cizikas went inside-out on John Marino before beating DeSmith while falling down at 5:39, a gorgeous finish for the centerman. However, the Pens rallied midway through the first to level the score after a red-hot Bryan Rust finished off a sweet tick-tack-toe passing play with his line-mates Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel, as their line continues to be the driving force of the teams’ offense. At 16:40 of the first, Jean-Gabriel Pageau netted a powerplay goal on a tip in front of the net to put the Isles back in front at the intermission.
The lone goal in the second period came courtesy of Penguins forward Zach Aston-Reese, who was making his season debut last night. The New York-native was reunited with line-mates Teddy Blueger and Brandon Tanev, a line that saw much success a year ago. At 7:02 of the second, Aston-Reese jammed away at his own rebound to tie the game for the Pens. The 26-year-old has been on the teams long-term injury reserve and missed the first 11 games of the year after having offseason shoulder surgery. He had 13 points in 57 games last season.
As the third period got underway, the game began to open up a bit as both teams looked to find the winner. It was not until 13:35 of the third period where Mat Barzal scored a gorgeous goal. After a few nifty moves and quick speed to get around rookie defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph, Barzal beat DeSmith glove-side. It was a great individual effort by the Isles superstar, who the Pens, far too often throughout the game, gave too much time and space to. Late in the third, with the extra attacker on for the Pens, and just 18 seconds to go in the game, a rather quiet Evgeni Malkin uncorked a cannon from the point to tie the game yet again for the comeback kids. The Russian forwards third of the year could not have come at a better time, and was an absolute rocket, beating Semyon Varlamov to his blocker-side, sending the game to overtime.
Coach Mike Sullivan discussed Malkin’s crucial game-tying goal: “It’s huge for us. I think we needed a win for our confidence. I love how our guys dug in down the stretch…Tanger makes a good pass. He puts it right in Geno’s wheelhouse, and obviously he can really shoot the puck.”
Overtime solved nothing and was rather uneventful as both teams seemed tentative to take any risks which resulted in a very conservative overtime frame from both sides. The shootout saw just a single goal, scored by Pens Captain Sidney Crosby who outwaited Varlamov, with slow feet and quick hands before going to the backhand to finish off the goal. Casey DeSmith stood tall and stopped all three Isles shooters to seal the victory in what was another comeback win for the team, a theme that is becoming all too familiar.
“I think earlier in the year, we didn’t have great starts. Lately our starts have been good, but we still manage to fall behind a little bit – but you see how much character there is in this dressing room. Guys never give up.” said Pens defenseman Kris Letang about the comeback wins.
The team has begun to find a groove and although goaltending and special teams still seem to be questionable, the team is playing with more confidence and chemistry in each passing game. The return of Aston-Reese was another positive for the club, as their injured players continue to slowly return to the lineup. The team is still without key forward Jared McCann, as well as defenseman Brian Dumoulin and Marcus Pettersson, among several other depth players who the team hopes to get back to full fitness soon.
Although the teams’ roster may look thin, the team has looked to its leadership for guidance. “We’ve got a really high character group in there, and I think that just starts at the top with the leadership with Sid, Geno, and Tanger. I think we just kind of try and follow their lead every time we get in a bit of a hole.” said Penguins forward Bryan Rust.
The Pens will be back in action on Sunday at 3 PM EST as they meet with Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals at PPG Paints Arena. The team remains a perfect 4-0-0 at home and look to add to that record when the Caps come to town for the start of a four-game home-stand.