Islanders Fall to Short-Handed Pens

The Islanders knew they had a prime opportunity last night heading into a game against the Penguins, who would be without Sidney Crosby, Jordan Staal, Kris Letang, and Zybnek Michalek.  The Isles had a chance to make a statement to their division by taking advantage of playing a depleted Pens lineup and coming out of the game with 2 points. 

Things looked promising for the Islanders, who controlled the play early on and stormed out to a 2-0 lead.  David Ullstrom scored his second goal of the season on a sharp angle wrist shot that beat Marc Andre Fleury high over his glove hand.  Milan Jurcina added a power play goal on a hard slap shot from the point. 

The two goal advantage was short-lived by the home team, as the visiting Penguins answered under 2 minutes later on a goal by Steve Sullivan.  A defensive zone coverage breakdown led to a quick feed from behind the net to a wide-open Sullivan, who deposited the puck behind Al Montoya.  Montoya struggled for one of the first times this season, and seemed just a split-second slow to react on a number of goals which Isles fans have gotten used to seeing him bail out. 

One thing many hockey coaches tell their teams is that it is crucial to not allow goals in the first or last minute of a period.  The Islanders wound up being guilty of both things in this game.  With under a minute to go in the first period, the Penguins got a tying goal from James Neal off a quick pass from Evgeni Malkin.  The goal was Neal’s 16th of the season. 

In the second period, Kyle Okposo regained the lead for the Islanders just 3 minutes into the period off a blistering wrist shot that beat Marc Andre Fleury high on the stick side.  Okposo finished the game with a goal and an assist, and was named the 3rd star of the game. 

Next came one of the most questionable calls in the NHL this season.  Travis Hamonic bumped into Brooks Orpik, and Orpik’s stick came up and knocked himself in the forehead.  Orpik began to bleed, and Hamonic was promptly given a five minute major and was ejected from the game.  This happened extremely quickly and caught both teams and Hamonic himself by surprise.  Hamonic said after the game:

"I've watched it numerous times, and that's a play where I probably wouldn't even get credit for a hit," the second-year defenseman said. "You watch the play and I skate by and (it's) minimal contact with the opposing player. He hits himself in the forehead with his own stick. He goes down and he's bleeding … next thing you know, five-minute major and you're kicked out of the game. Tough call to make in those circumstances, I guess.

"You watch that replay, and in my opinion that's a terrible call because I didn't hit him. That wasn't a head-check. That's not my style of play. My style of play is not to hit anyone's head, and I didn't in any sort of way. I kept my elbows down, hit him right in the stomach and he follows through and hits himself in the forehead. It's very frustrating. That's a critical part in the game and then all of a sudden, we're short guys. All that for a hit that you can watch over and over again … it's pretty self-explanatory." – quote from NHL.com

Even Orpik himself admitted he did not think it warranted a five minute major after the game.  This penalty completely changed the complexion of the game.  The Penguins scored on the resulting power play to tie the game again at 3. 

The game went downhill from that point, as the Islanders allowed a go-ahead goal from the Penguins from Pascal Dupuis with about 4 minutes remaining in the second period.  Matt Cooke and Paul Martin added goals in the third, as the Islanders could not manage to stop the Penguins being short a defenseman after losing Hamonic for the game. 

This was a disappointing result for the Islanders, who needed 2 points against a divisional foe to take a legitimate step back into the thick of the playoff race for the first time this season.  Al Montoya was not sharp for one of the first times this season, and the result of the game did not hide that fact.  Despite scoring 3 goals, the loss of Hamonic on the defensive side of the ice proved too much to overcome over the course of a 60 minute game. 

The Islanders look to rebound Tuesday night in Montreal against a Canadiens team who is also struggling to find their identity.  A bounce-back victory would do wonders for the Islanders’ confidence and get them back on track towards climbing up the standings.

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