One step forward, one step back.
Following an emotional 4-3 shootout win over Nashville Tuesday that snapped a demoralizing 7-game losing streak, the Islanders fell 3-1 to the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins last night.
The Islanders are now 2-8-0 in their last ten games.
The last time the Islanders made a visit to Mellon Arena January 19, they were overpowered by the dangerous tandem of Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, who combined for 9 points (5 goals, 4 assists) in Pittsburgh’s 6-4 win.
The Islanders managed to contain Pittsburgh’s dynamic duo—Crosby was held off the score sheet and Malkin was limited to one goal and one assist—but did not have an answer for Chris Kunitz, who had his first multi-goal game of the season days after returning from an abdominal injury.
Despite a three-goal output one night prior, the Isles struggled to score yet again, mustering only one goal last night.
"It's something that eventually is going to turn our way. The takeaway is that we're generating shots and generating offense, but we're not at the point where we are consistently burying them," coach Scott Gordon said in a telephone interview following the game.
Trailing 2-0 in the third period, Frans Nielsen cut the Penguins lead in half with a swift-backhander from the crease that beat Marc-Andre Fleury at 9:38 but Kunitz’ potted his second goal of the night on a breakaway to give Pittsburgh an insurance goal at 14:48.
Despite an absence of goals, the first period did not lack for excitement.
In a high-energy, physical twenty minutes of play, engaged in their first fight in over a month, hit a post on a prime power-play opportunity and were anchored by a sharp showing in net by Dwayne Roloson.
Roloson, who entered last night’s game 1-4 in his previous five starts, turned away all nine Pittsburgh shots.
Matt Martin, who had two assists in his first NHL game Tuesday against Nashville, scrapped with Tyler Kennedy for the Islanders’ first fight since defenseman Bruno Gervais tangled with Rangers irritant Sean Avery on December 26.
One night after the Islanders notched two power-play goals, the Islanders failed to cash in on 48 seconds of 5-on-3 time in the second period after Jordan Staal took a cross-checking penalty took with Brooks Orpik already in the box.
Ten seconds after Staal left the box, the Penguins scored on an odd-man rush. Kunitz lifted the puck from the left circle to beat Roloson short side at 10:33 in the second period and give Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead.
Malkin extended the Penguins lead to two goals with his tip-in tally at 17:00 during 4-on-4 play.
After Roloson and Mike Rupp traded jabs and offsetting roughing penalties, Malkin won a faceoff in Pittsburgh’s offensive zone and scooted right in to re-direct Sergei Gonchar’s shot for his 21st goal of the season.
While Nielsen halved the Penguins’ lead in the third, the Islanders lack of offense haunted them once again. Kunitz scored later in the period, and the Islanders paltry output of one goal couldn’t compete for the Penguins high-octane offense.
The Islanders now have only two games remaining until the Olympic break, both of which are must-wins if the team doesn’t want to mull a bleak playoff picture during their two-week recess.
"We're not far off from going the other way," Gordon said. "We're not getting outplayed or beaten because our opponent has outplayed us. They've outscored us. It's frustraiting but we've just got to stay with it."