PITTSBURGH - They had to lose sometime. But after the Islanders opened the season with four wins, their first loss -- 3-1 to the Penguins Saturday night -- stung a bit more because of the many missed opportunities in a feisty game.
The Isles entered the game with the second-best power play in the league, and the Penguins had the worst penalty kill. But the Islanders didn't convert on any of their seven power-play chances, including 1:26 of five-on-three time in the second period while holding a 1-0 lead.
The Penguins converted their two-man advantage soon after, scoring on both ends of those two power plays to take the lead and keep it.
"We just weren't as crisp as we've been on the power play," John Tavares said after being held off the scoresheet for the first time this season. "For whatever reason, we weren't sharp."
Even with those failures, particularly on that lengthy five-on-three, the Isles were in good position as the second period wore on.
Thomas Hickey's rush into the play and neatly placed wrist shot over Marc-Andre Fleury's shoulder at 5:46 of the first period had given them the lead. Jaroslav Halak was sharp, as were the Islanders despite being hemmed in by Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and company for long stretches.
"I thought we were playing pretty good," said Halak, who finished with 35 saves.
They were -- until a borderline call on Cory Conacher against Crosby with 7:04 left in the second, followed by a borderline too-many-men call during the penalty kill. Cal Clutterbuck intercepted a pass at center ice just as Nikolay Kulemin reached the bench, a penalty that is rarely called when a player is a few feet from leaving the ice.
Malkin snapped a wrist shot through traffic to tie the score at 13:49 and his slapper was deflected past Halak by Patric Hornqvist 55 seconds later, marking the third time in five games that the Islanders have allowed two power-play goals.
"If you look back and see our record when we don't convert a five-on-three, it's not very good," coach Jack Capuano said.
He did have praise for Travis Hamonic, who missed the final 15:37 of the game after taking 17 penalty minutes when he initiated a fight with Steve Downie, who had flown in and leveled Frans Nielsen in the corner of the Islanders' zone. Losing Hamonic for the bulk of the third period in a one-goal game forced plenty of scrambling.
"I support that all day long," Capuano said. "I hope we have more guys to step up if it happens again."
That Downie hit followed a bizarre sequence in the final seconds of the middle period. Crosby, who took a hooking minor earlier, clipped legs with Halak behind the Islanders' net. Halak was incensed that there was no penalty call and exchanged words with Crosby after the horn, which prompted Hamonic to deliver a bump to the Penguins' captain and started more words with Downie.
"No," Halak said when asked if Crosby was apologizing for the clip. "I don't want to comment, but I think it should've been a penalty."
The two teams have four more games this season and their history is intense, even in recent seasons, when the Penguins have been far more successful. Saturday night's game snapped the Islanders' perfect start, but they hardly feel they're out of Pittsburgh's league anymore.
"We had our chances," Tavares said. "There's just some little things we need to be better at."