PITTSBURGH — The Penguins certainly have upped their game during the past month, so if nothing else, the Islanders should have a clearer picture of just how good they need to be to really consider themselves a playoff contender.
They were completely outclassed in a 6-2 loss to the Penguins at PPG Paints Arena on Thursday night.
“It was too friendly of a game,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “There wasn’t enough skin invested in the game, right across the board. We needed a couple of saves. Some defensemen could play a little bit better. Some of our forwards who are a little more physical could be a little more assertive. Our skill guys are going to have to produce. No one was immune today.”
Thomas Greiss, starting for the sixth time in seven games, was pulled after allowing five goals on 21 shots in two periods for the Islanders (13-11-3), who are 10-3-0 against Metropolitan Division opponents but have lost two of their last three divisional games.
Phil Kessel had two goals and two assists, Kris Letang scored twice, Sidney Crosby had a goal and two assists and Casey DeSmith made 19 saves for the Penguins (12-10-5).
“Our intensity wasn’t there,” Mathew Barzal said. “We knew it. Barry knew it. It’s unfortunate that in such a big game, that kind of result.”
The Islanders went 0-for-2 on the power play and are 0-for-19 in their last nine games.
The teams will meet again on Monday night at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum — possibly still reverberating from the Islanders’ emotional 3-2 win over the Blue Jackets last Saturday in the first-regular-season game at the old barn since 2015.
The Islanders won the first two games against Pittsburgh this season, but the Penguins, just one season removed from back-to-back Stanley Cups, now are on a 5-2-2 run.
“In the second period, we just didn’t have enough effort and we didn’t win any 50-50 puck battles,” defenseman Ryan Pulock said. “They were better, but it’s more we weren’t as good as we need to be. We weren’t engaged enough, and that’s what happens when you don’t do that.”
The Penguins scored three second-period goals as they outshot the Islanders 13-4.
“It wasn’t the standard we needed and need to come to play with,” said Brock Nelson, who snapped an eight-game goal-less streak with a shorthanded goal off former Penguin Tom Kuhnhackl’s forecheck to tie the score at 1 at 17:43 of the first period.
But Letang’s second goal of the first period, a shot from the blue line that Greiss allowed to slip over his left pad and under his glove with 28.5 seconds left, gave the Penguins a 2-1 lead.
In the second, Riley Sheahan slipped past defenseman Nick Leddy (minus-4) and batted the puck past Greiss for a 3-1 Pittsburgh lead at 7:21 on a play reviewed for a high stick. Kessel’s power-play goal at 12:09 — Crosby found him open in the left circle — made it 4-1, and Crosby skated around Leddy to the crease and fed Kessel at the right post for a 5-1 lead at 17:37.
Anders Lee pulled the Islanders within 5-2 with a backhander at 4:23 of the third period.
Christopher Gibson stopped six shots in relief of Greiss, turning aside Crosby’s breakaway but allowing his sharp-angle goal at 13:00.