Penguins 3 Islanders 2 (SO) — Pluses and Minus from gut-wrenching defeat

After Tuesday night’s 3-0 loss to the Penguins at Nassau Coliseum, Islanders head coach Jack Capuano was hoping to find the chemistry needed to jumpstart an offense that had only been able to generate an NHL-low eight even-strength goals through seven games. Instead, the second-year head coach made a move that many would call unorthodox, as he pulled starter Evgeni Nabokov and replaced him with back-up Rick Dipietro during Thursday evening’s shootout against the Penguins at Consol Energy Center.

Unfortunately, neither worked, as the Islanders squandered a 2-0 lead with 19 minutes remaining, as Evgeni Malkin slid a wrister past Dipietro – playing in his first game of 2011-12 – during the shootout to extend the Islanders’ winless streak in Pittburgh to 12 (0-10-2), as the Penguins defeated the Islanders, 3-2, winning the skills competition, 1-0.

Penguin netminder Marc-Andre Fleury stopped Islander forwards Frans Nielsen, P.A. Parenteau and John Tavares in the shootout to secure his seventh victory of the season. He made 17 saves, including nine in the third period.

Nielsen led off the scoring for the Islanders late in the first period, as he pounced on a loose puck from in front of the Penguin net and slid it under Fleury. The play was started by a great pinch by captain Mark Streit, whose shot onto the Penguin goal deflected off the heel of Islander winger Kyle Okposo into the waiting arms of Nielsen.

Following a scoreless second period, in which Nabokov stonewalled the Penguins 13 times, many coming from point-blank range and with countless Penguin forward being draped all over him, the Islanders extended the lead to 2-0, 45 seconds into the third period. Islander forward Matt Martin, stationed in front of Fleury, grabbed a rebound of a Steve Staios slapper from the right point, and slid it under Fleury.

Then the onslaught began. Or you can say the giveaways commenced.

Penguin forward Chris Kunitz scored his third of the season, 44 seconds after Martin’s tally, as he slid behind Islander defenseman Travis Hamonic and tucked a rebound past Nabokov. Pascal Dupuis’ effort to get behind Islander defenseman Andrew McDonald keyed the play.

The Penguins would tie the score at 2, controversially, less than three minutes later on the power play, as James Neal scored his ninth goal of the season and 22nd in October over the past three seasons, on a gorgeous tic-tac-toe pass from Penguin defenseman Kris Letang to Malkin, who found the wide open Neal to the right of Nabokov. The Islanders had numerous opportunities to clear the puck, but couldn’t.

The debate that led to the Penguins’ tying goal was whether they should’ve been on the man-advantage in the first place. Okposo was clearly shoved into Fleury by defenseman Brooks Orpik, yet the zebras saw it otherwise and sent Okposo to the sin-bin for goaltender interference.

The Islanders were able to muster their best offensive pressure over the final 10 minutes of regulation, but Fleury matched Nabokov’s play in net, by swatting the Islanders’ final eight shots away.

Adversely, that sustained pressure was non-existent through the game’s first 40 minutes, as the Islanders were only able to muster nine total shots.

With the victory, the Penguins (8-2-2, 18 points) have now extended their winning streak to five, while the Islanders (3-4-1, 7 points) are now winless in four.

The Islanders return to Long Island on Saturday evening, when they play host to the San Jose Sharks. They will honor the 1992-93 Eastern Conference finalist team before the game.

On to some of the positives and negatives in the +/-

+ Travis Hamonic- Other than John Tavares, he is Garth Snow’s finest pick since the rebuild began. He played 25:22, and is unquestionable the team’s best overall defenseman. He blocked a team-leading five shots, and shadowed Malkin and Penguin forward Jordan Staal. Can you believe that he is only 21 years old? Wow.

- Odd man rushes – Throughout the game, the Islanders had numerous 3-on-2 odd man rushes. Can they please hit the net once. That statement is squarely aimed at Blake Comeau, who missed the goal on a few of thouse rushes.

+ Nabokov – He saved 30 of 32 shots, and could easily have been named the game’s top star. Is there really a goaltending controvery anymore.

- Okposo, Bailey and Comeau – This seems to be a nightly mention, but they continue to do too much on the offensive end. All three are thinking too much, and it is evident by the amount of turnovers all three commit on the offensive end.

+ John Tavares – While he was unable to hit the scoresheet, he is definitely not 18 anymore. He took the play at both Letang and Orpik. Can you honestly say that Tavares, as a rookie, would’ve done that?

- Puck Clearing – How many opportunities did the Islanders squander in clearing the puck. I noticed four times that Bailey would try to spin around a Penguin, and lose the puck. The Islanders had three opportunities to clear the puck on the Penguins’ tying goal, but didn’t.

+ Milan Jurcina – His presence was noticeable from the onset. As he decked Penguin forward Matt Cooke before he entered the offensive zone, I was thinking if Jurcina stays healthy, Mike Mottau will become quite comfortable in the team’s suite.