Casey Cizikas’ first NHL goal put the Islanders on the board, and a flurry of second period goals put them up for good as the Islanders skated to a 4-1 road victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins Thursday. Evgeni Nabokov made 37 saves, losing a shutout bid with 1:09 remaining in regulation as the Islanders improve to 3-2-1.
Following the game, Head Coach Jack Capuano credited his team with what he thought was a much improved all-around effort from Sunday’s game at Winnipeg.
“I thought we worked hard,” Capuano said. “We came in here, and I’m sure no one gave us much of a chance against a real good hockey team. But systematically we were a bit more structured than we were in the last game, and there were some improvements in all areas of our game tonight.”
The Islanders staved off an early wave of attacks from the Pittsburgh offense, which drew two penalties in the first half of the opening frame. The Islanders’ penalty kill continued their exceptional play, however, killing off both with ease. Cizikas gave the Islanders the edge on the scoreboard after stripping Penguins defenseman Paul Martin of the puck, wrapping around past Marc-Andre Fleury for the first goal of his career at 16:01.
In the second period, the Islanders gained control and would not let go.
The Islanders forced a turnover in their own zone and Michael Grabner knocked the puck away from Deryk Engelland at the blue line. Grabner broke free, skated in on Fleury and fired a wrist shot off the Pittsburgh netminder’s glove that bounced in at 6:46. Mark Streit and Marty Reasoner earned assists on the play.
A John Tavares power-play goal later in the period made the score 3-0. Matt Moulson took a Frans Nielsen feed from high in the zone and made a one-touch pass across the crease to Tavares. Fleury had no chance on the one-timer, as it sailed over his right shoulder at the 15:22 mark.
“We didn’t make it easy for them and that was a focus of ours,” Tavares said. “Establishing our game early, getting a couple of goals, making them come from behind – those are things that frustrate them. When we’re skating, getting on the forecheck, I think that’s when we’re most effective. In the games that we’re most successful, that’s what we’ve been doing.”
Moulson added a tally of his own less than two minutes later to extend the Islanders cushion to four. Brad Boyes’ initial shot was deflected behind the Pittsburgh goal, causing Fleury to turn his body just as the puck caromed off the glass onto Moulson’s stick. The left wing knocked home the Islanders second power-play goal of the period from the doorstep with an uncontested shot. Nielsen earned the secondary assist on the play, and has five helpers in his last four games.
Fleury was pulled after the second intermission in favor of Tomas Vokoun. Fleury made 13 saves on 17 shots.
The Penguins had a chance to turn things around after the officials called Colin McDonald for a five-minute major penalty for boarding and a game misconduct at 18:54 of the second period. Pittsburgh was unable to capitalize before intermission, but carried a 3:54 power play into the third. The Penguins managed just two shots over the duration of the man advantage, as most of the pressure was kept to the outside.
The Islanders finished the game 2-for-2 on the power-play, scoring on their only two shots, while the Penguins went 0-for-3 on the man advantage.
“I’m sure they’re talking about how they’ve got to get more shots,” Capuano said. “We kept them to the outside a little bit, tried to have sticks in lanes, and keep them on the perimeter. I thought our power-play and penalty kill were the difference in the game. It changed momentum. They came at us in the third, we weathered the storm, and we played pretty good hockey for the last few minutes of that period.”
Pascal Dupuis broke up the shutout bid with a minute remaining in regulation. Sidney Crosby fed the puck from down low to Chris Kunitz in the right circle. Nabokov made the initial save, but Dupuis cleaned up the rebound to make it 4-1.
Following the game, Nabokov made clear the expectations the Islanders have going forward, despite playing in a division in which four teams made the postseason a year ago.
“We have to make the playoffs. That’s our goal. That’s what we’re working for.”
The Islanders conclude the current five-game road trip on Thursday, Jan. 31, when they take on the New Jersey Devils at 7 p.m.