PITTSBURGH -- Even at 22, John Tavares is wise enough to acknowledge that victories in the NHL never come easy.
His New York Islanders, though, sure made things difficult on the Pittsburgh Penguins Tuesday night.
Matt Moulson had a goal and an assist, Evgeni Nabokov made 37 saves and New York used its speed and sound defensive hockey to beat Pittsburgh, 4-1.
The victory was the Islanders' second consecutive in Pittsburgh since snapping a 13-game road skid to the Penguins. New York did not win at either Mellon Arena or the Consol Energy Center from between Dec. 21, 2007 and March 27, 2012.
"I don't consider any win easy, but we came out and played the game we wanted to play and I think we didn't make the game easy for them," said Tavares, who scored for the second consecutive game. "That was a focus of ours.
"I think we established our game, and when we're doing that I think it makes it more difficult for the other team to play the way they want to play."
Casey Cizikas had his first NHL goal and Michael Grabner also scored for the Islanders (3-2-1), who have at least a point in four of their past five games.
Nabokov was rarely challenged seriously and narrowly missed out on his 53rd career shutout when Pascal Dupuis scored with 1:09 to play. Still, Nabokov improved to 10-2 in his career against Pittsburgh, the beneficiary of a defensive effort that included killing off nine minutes of Penguins’ power-play time and otherwise frustrated and rendered the Penguins' high-powered offense impotent.
"We had a total team effort," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said.
"I thought we worked hard. I'm sure nobody gave us much of a chance against a really good hockey team, but you know what, I thought systematically we were a little more structured."
Pittsburgh, the Eastern Conference's lone winless team at home, has lost three of four. The Penguins have managed only six regulation goals in their past four games -- none from outside their "Big Three" of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and James Neal until Dupuis' late tally Tuesday.
That goal allowed the Penguins to avoid being shut out at home for the first time since March 12, 2011.
"When things aren't going our way, we can't hang our heads," Neal said. "We've got to stay upbeat and keep pushing. But tonight was obviously a tough one. When bounces aren't going our way, we kind of go the other way."
The only time the Penguins appeared to be seizing momentum of Tuesday's game came late in the second period. Already down 2-0, Pittsburgh's lengthy shift in the Islanders' zone got the record crowd of 18,657 into the game.
But the Penguins promptly took two penalties that each led to Islanders' power-play tallies that all but put the game away.
First was a Tavares goal for the second consecutive game, the pretty culmination of a near-perfect sequence of passing during a textbook New York power play. Moulson slid a one-touch pass across the slot to Tavares, who beat Marc-Andre Fleury stick side into the upper corner as he slid the opposite way.
Less than two minutes later, Moulson scored for the fourth time in his past four games, burying a puck left for him while he stood alone in the slot. Brad Boyes corralled a puck off the boards and dropped it for Moulson.
Any thought Pittsburgh had of getting back into the contest was extinguished when it couldn't score during the resulting power play after a Colin McDonald five-minute boarding major not long after Moulson's goal.
A scratch for Sunday's Islanders overtime loss at Winnipeg, Cizikas scored his first career goal 16:01 into the contest when he blocked a Paul Martin clearing attempt from the corner to the right of the Penguins' net, took possession of the puck and beat Fleury on a wraparound on the far post.
Grabner made it 2-0 less than seven minutes into the second when he stole the puck from Deryk Engelland at the left point in the Islanders' zone and used his speed to get a clean breakaway. Fleury got a piece of Grabner's wrist shot, but it flipped up over his shoulder and into the net for Grabner's team-high fourth of the season.
That would be more than enough for an Islanders’ defense that limited its own giveaways (New York had two, compared to the Penguins' 11) as well as it limited Pittsburgh's quality scoring chances.
"We get a couple bad bounces, ended up down early and seems like we let that frustration kind of get to us," Crosby said.
New York's blue line was buoyed by the presence of Travis Hamonic, who sustained a lower-body injury Sunday and was somewhat of a surprise at the morning skate Tuesday.
With 22 goals in six games, the Islanders rank second in the Eastern Conference in scoring. It's early, but they have the look of a team that's poised to break the mold of the one that's saddled by five consecutive last-place finishes in an Atlantic Division that produced the conference's top three regular-season teams in addition to the Stanley Cup Final representative last season.
"We like to think we're closing the gap," center Marty Reasoner said.
Even against a team led by two recent Hart Trophy winners in Crosby and Malkin, one that hadn't lost two consecutive home games to the Islanders in more than a decade.
"I think for your guys," Capuano said, "they look at the opposition's lineup and they see who they've got in there, and it helps their confidence, let's them know, 'Hey, when we play in the framework and the foundation of how we want to play, we can have some success.'"
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