With their 4-2 win over the New York Islanders on Tuesday at Nassau Coliseum, the Penguins have now defeated every one of their Atlantic Division opponents.
But what the Penguins are probably more pleased about is that they came out with a much stronger effort than they did a week ago at home against the Islanders in a 4-1 loss and continued the momentum they’ve built up as a response to that poor effort, as this was Pittsburgh’s fourth straight win.
It wasn’t always pretty – the Penguins got into penalty trouble in this game (more on that below) and it got hairy in the third period as the Islanders cut a 3-0 Penguins lead to 3-2 in a matter of seconds, but Pittsburgh’s penalty killers performed outstanding, Marc-Andre Fleury played sensational in goal and the team gutted out a road victory over a team that defeated them soundly in their last meeting and got the two points.
"That's a good road win for us," said Brandon Sutter, who scored for the Penguins. "We showed a lot of character. I think we did a really good job of being aggressive on them and it worked out."
James Neal, Simon Despres and Pascal Dupuis also scored for the Penguins while Michael Grabner and Brad Boyes tallied for the Islanders.
GAME GOT INTERESTING The game got interesting in the third period, as the Islanders cut a freshly built Penguins lead down to one goal very quickly.
After Sutter scored his second goal of the season 1:44 into the period off a feed from Matt Cooke to make it 3-0 Pittsburgh, the Islanders responded exactly one minute, 30 seconds later when Michael Grabner directed a Kyle Okposo pass into the open net.
Thirty-five seconds after that, Brad Boyes lifted a shot past Fleury to shift the momentum firmly to the Islanders’ side.
Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma promptly used his timeout after the red light went off a second time for the Islanders to calm his team down, and they managed to find a way to win. The Penguins grinded out the rest of the period and successfully killed off the Islanders' seventh and final power play before Dupuis iced the victory with an empty-net goal with 39 seconds left.
"I definitely just wanted to refocus and I don’t know if relax is the right word, but (the Islanders) started coming with a lot of speed there and they got two quick goals," Bylsma said. "Just wanted to take a second, take a look at the clock. Just wanted to get refocused back on playing the way we needed to play, regardless of the fact that they got two quick ones. I thought our guys did a great job of that. We were faced with another kill in that period of time and we had to come up big with that kill, which I thought was huge."
"Nobody panicked," added Fleury. "Everybody stayed calm, stuck with it. We got a big kill after that and didn’t give too much."
STELLAR SHORTHANDED Going into Tuesday’s game, the Islanders had the league’s third-best power play. It had been ranked first entering their previous contest on Sunday against New Jersey, but dropped a few spots after going 0-for-7 against the Devils in a 3-0 loss.
Well, it looks like the Islanders’ power play may drop another few spots as the Penguins didn’t allow a goal on seven opportunities on Tuesday night.
For a long stretch – from just over five minutes into the first period until just under five minutes in the second – it seemed like Pittsburgh’s penalty box would never be empty, as six of their penalties came during that time (not counting a five-minute fighting major to Tanner Glass, who dropped the mitts with defenseman Matt Martin).
"I don’t think you can say enough about the penalty kill tonight," Bylsma said.
Fleury was a rock in goal for the Penguins, stopping 16 shots on the penalty kill and was absolutely their best player shorthanded. He put on a display of pure athleticism and instincts, somehow seeing and stopping long shots through traffic from the point and then quickly sliding over to cover the sides of the net. He made several pad saves on point-blank opportunities from the backdoor that looked like sure goals.
"'Flower' was definitely our best penalty killer tonight," forward Craig Adams said. "We needed it, for sure."
Defensemen Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin were beasts in front of their goaltender while shorthanded. They each logged 8:36 minutes on the penalty kill, doing everything they could to get the puck out of the zone.
Adams, Glass, Matt Cooke, Pascal Dupuis, Brandon Sutter, Kris Letang, Deryk Engelland and Sidney Crosby also did their part – blocking shots, breaking up passing and shooting lanes, taking the body, pressuring hard – to shut down what's been an overall potent Islanders power play.
"They were awesome all night," Fleury said. "They blocked a lot of shots, helped me out around the net and a great game by them."
The Penguins penalty killers have high standards for themselves, so they entered Tuesday’s game wanting to redeem themselves after allowing the Islanders to convert both of their power-play chances in the teams' last meeting on Jan. 29.
They wanted to do a better job, and they did excellent. But with that being said, the players know they all must be more disciplined and not put themselves in situations where their penalty killers keep going over the boards, while their top producers – Crosby, Malkin, Neal, Kunitz, etc. – are stuck on the bench for long periods of time.
"That's a lot of penalty killing," Sutter said. "We've got to do a little better job of staying out of the box, especially when we're up by a goal or two. It was a long second period for the penalty killers."
CROSBY OK AFTER TAKING PUCK TO FACE
Watching any player go down in a hockey game is incredibly scary, especially when it’s the team captain and superstar Sidney Crosby.
The scary sequence, which happened 3:05 into the second period, unfolded like this: The Penguins were on their third power play of the night. Evgeni Malkin had the puck on the right side of the ice and took a shot. Defenseman Brian Strait went down on one knee to try and block it, getting his stick on it. The puck deflected straight up into the face of Crosby stationed near him, who fell to the ice and stayed down for a few breathless moments dripping blood. He went straight down to the locker room and fortunately was able to return, taking his first shift back with 12:22 left in the period.
Crosby played a total of 16:09 minutes in the game, putting gauze in his nose whenever he was on the bench.
He even joked about it in his postgame interview, leaning over to look for more gauze and saying to reporters with a smile, 'Sorry guys, am I still gushing? I can't tell. It's not a very comfortable situation to be in."
Crosby said after the game that his nose was not broken.
HOME AWAY FROM HOME
The Penguins' road mark this season is now 6-1, which is the best in the Eastern Conference. Only the Chicago Blackhawks (6-0-1, 13 points) have posted a better mark among NHL teams. It's also the second-best road record to start a season in franchise history (7-0 in 2009-10).
Neal has scored all seven of his points (6G-1A) on the road so far this season.