PITTSBURGH -- This city and its hockey superstar have provided nightmare fodder for the Islanders for a few years now, reminding the struggling team from Long Island who is the boss of this rivalry.
Sidney Crosby and the Penguins haunted the Isles again Sunday night, as Crosby tied a career high with five assists in a 6-1 Islanders loss. It was the sort of game that most of those inside the visitors' locker room thought was behind them -- the sort of game in which the Islanders lose their discipline and focus early and are never in it against a more talented team.
"Obviously not," John Tavares said when asked about such ugly losses being a thing of the Islanders' past. "We did a lot of watching out there tonight."
Crosby assisted on all three of Pittsburgh's first-period goals, two coming on the power play. One was just after a five-on-three ended. The two-man advantage was awarded when Travis Hamonic was whistled for retaliation on James Neal on a very iffy call.
Chris Kunitz's two power-play goals 2:55 apart toward the end of the first period effectively dashed the Islanders' confidence. Brad Boyes got them within 3-1 in the second, but Kunitz, completing his hat trick, and Neal scored 16 seconds apart to chase Evgeni Nabokov after 17 shots in two periods.
It was Nabokov's first time starting back-to-back games this season. He was caught off guard by Pascal Dupuis' sharp-angle shot at 7:10 of the first, but he was at the mercy of the flying Penguins for the remainder of his 40 minutes.
"Embarrassing," Frans Nielsen said. "I don't know what to say, man . . . It shouldn't be 3-0 there. Our PK has to be better."
Crosby tied his career high assisting on Dupuis' second goal of the game, against Kevin Poulin in the third. No. 87 has 73 points in 39 games against the Islanders.
The Isles were trying to build on a 3-0-2 finish to their homestand, climb above .500 and perhaps edge into the top eight in the Eastern Conference.
Instead, there were puzzled looks and a search for answers as to how this sort of ugliness could rear its head again against the Penguins, and again with Crosby torching them. Pittsburgh even did it without Evgeni Malkin, its No. 1A star, who was out with an upper-body injury.
"These are the games we have to challenge ourselves to be better," Matt Martin said. "It feels like as soon as they get the puck in our end, we fall apart a bit. And as soon as a team like that sees we're not in it mentally, they'll jump all over you and they'll bury you."
The Islanders are not finished for the season, nor are they spiraling to the bottom of the conference. Those have been the situations in which they have found themselves coming into Pittsburgh in the past, when the Penguins' talents have taunted the Isles with their skill.
The Islanders still are only a game under .500 and three points out of eighth place in the East. But they had tried, through their play and through their ability to bounce back from early deficits this season, to show they were beyond such games.
"We've had some resiliency at times, and we haven't had it at other times," Tavares said.
"It's disappointing, it's unacceptable," Martin said. "I don't know why it happens, I don't know how it happens, but we've got to fix it, fast. We just don't have the confidence we should sometimes."