The Islanders carved out more space and created more chances Tuesday against the top-level Penguins than they had in either game in Florida last week -- probably more space and more chances than in both games against the Lightning and Panthers combined.
Too bad they didn't capitalize on any of their 33 shots. The Penguins did, scoring late in the first off an Islanders' coverage breakdown, then again early in the second after John Tavares' turnover, and that was all the Penguins needed, with the Islanders unable to put anything behind Marc-Andre Fleury in a 3-0 loss at Nassau Coliseum, the Isles' third straight loss.
"They didn't outplay us. I thought we controlled most of the play, where we got outplayed in Florida for 40 minutes a game," said Kyle Okposo, who had a couple of good scoring chances early. "It's a step in the right direction."
But the frustration of another scoreless night was evident on Okposo's face. Josh Bailey's, too. Bailey, Blake Comeau and Brian Rolston clicked as a line for the first time this season, but they were unable to break into the goal column as the Islanders were shut out for the second time in their seven games and have scored only eight even-strength goals.
"Tonight, I thought we did a pretty good job of going to the net. Structure-wise, we were good in the offensive zone, we had some net presence," coach Jack Capuano said. "The guys worked hard."
That began right from the opening faceoff, with Okposo, Frans Nielsen and Michael Grabner pushing the tempo. After a stretch of a dozen minutes in which the Isles dominated play and put the Penguins on the defensive, the shots were 9-3 in the Isles' favor, even against a Pittsburgh lineup that included Evgeni Malkin, playing his first game in two weeks.
But Mark Streit got caught down by the faceoff circle on a broken play along the boards in the Pittsburgh zone and Brooks Orpik spied Pascal Dupuis zooming into the neutral zone as no Islander covered for Streit. Dupuis' breakaway shot beat Evgeni Nabokov with 2:54 left in the first.
Just 21 seconds into the second, Tavares left the puck behind as he tried to turn up ice near his blue line. Former Islander Richard Park faked to draw Streit out and snapped a wrist shot to the high corner, and the two-goal lead felt a lot larger.
"There's some little things we still need to improve on," said Matt Moulson, who had a couple of whacks at pucks right in front of Fleury at the start of the third. "We've got to get pucks out, get pucks in deep. And we really have to be able to respond -- we have to bury our chances."
For a team that made the league take notice of its goal- scorers over the second half of last season, the offense's disappearance is a mystery. Tavares has six goals, Moulson and Grabner have two and no one else has more than one; the Okposo-Nielsen-Grabner line that electrified many nights last season has been out of sync so far, despite generating plenty of chances Tuesday.
The same holds true for Bailey's line, which had a golden-chance three-on-two in the second, but Rolston flipped a pass to Bailey coming on a tough angle instead of firing a shot from the slot.
"We had opportunities, we've just got to find a way to put those in," Bailey said.