PITTSBURGH (93-7 The FAN) — A dismal stretch of hockey got worse for Pittsburgh Thursday night, as the Penguins lost to the Islanders on Long Island, 5-3.
The loss is Pittsburgh’s second in a row and puts it even farther out of reach of first place in the Eastern Conference while also slimming the gap between fourth and fifth place.
The Pens currently sit in fourth place in the East with 100 points, now a full five points behind the New York Rangers in first place and just two points ahead of fifth placed Philadelphia, which defeated Toronto, 7-1, Thursday.
Pittsburgh took a defensive mindset into Thursday night’s game after allowing 15 goals in the past three games, including a 5-3 loss to the Islanders Tuesday night at Consol Energy Center. That frame of mind paid off early, as New York managed just four shots in the first period.
Unfortunately, one of those shots got past goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and the Isles took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission. Marty Reasoner scored his first goal of the season from the slot, slipping the puck five-hole on Fleury.
“They’re pretty opportunistic,” Fleury, who allowed four goals on 23 shots, said, according to the team’s official website. “Sometimes we controlled the play very well, then they’d come down in our zone. They have a good group of forwards and they’re dangerous around the net making those little plays in front. They got a few (goals) like that tonight.”
Despite the low shot total, New York managed to log several long shifts in the Penguins end, cycling the puck to create offense and wear Pittsburgh down. That was a theme that carried throughout the night.
“We talked about (a better defensive effort) a lot. We expected the guys to have a better effort,” center Jordan Staal said. “It just wasn’t there. We have to definitely find a way to get our game back and do the things we need to do to win games.”
Pascal Dupuis managed to get the Penguins on the board with a shorthanded goal at the 8:37 mark of the second period, just seconds before a hooking minor to Pens defenseman Simon Despres expired.
Pittsburgh evened out the play from that point until New York tallied two goals in the final five minutes of the second period to take a 3-1 lead into the break and own all the momentum.
Kyle Okposo scored his 19th of the season in front with 3:24 left in the period, and Josh Bailey netted his 12th of the year two minutes later for a 3-1 lead.
Okposo got goal No. 20 of the season a little over five minutes into the third period to put the chances of a Penguins comeback basically out of reach.
Pittsburgh stormed back late in the third. Jordan Staal scored at the 8:20 mark and Evgeni Malkin tallied his 47th of the season with a minute-and-a half remaining. However, with Fleury pulled, Bailey potted an empty net goal with just five seconds left to send the Penguins to their second straight loss and third in their last four games.
The loss almost surely eliminates Pittsburgh from contention for the East’s top seed. It also means the Penguins have to keep searching for the right defensive effort and mindset.
That won’t come easy anytime soon, as they travel to Buffalo tonight — home of one of the NHL’s hottest teams.
“We’ve got to worry about our game,” Staal said. “The standings will be the standings. We want to win games. Right now, we’re not playing our best hockey and we’re losing games. That’s definitely something we’ve got to address first.”