PITTSBURGH — The much-maligned Pittsburgh Penguins’ penalty killers provided the lift needed to back up an already-sizzling power play.
The Penguins killed a lengthy 5-on-3 just minutes before Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist scored power-play goals 55 seconds apart in the second period, helping Pittsburgh hand the New York Islanders their first loss of the season, 3-1 on the night of Oct. 18.
“They took some heat the last three games, but certainly tonight they came through big time,” Penguins coach Mike Johnston said of the penalty killers. “That was the turning point in the game, that 5-on-3 kill.”
The Islanders (4-1), who came up empty during a 5-on-3 of their own in the second, were the Eastern Conference’s last unbeaten team.
“If you go back and look at our record when we don’t score a 5-on-3 goal, it’s not good,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. “We didn’t capitalize on ours, and obviously they did. That’s the difference in the game.”
Hornqvist, who assisted on Malkin’s goal, added an empty-net tally with 1:20 left to seal the Penguins’ win. It is the first time Hornqvist has opened a season with points in four straight games. He has a total of eight points.
Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby had two assists, including the 500th of his career. He joined Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr as the only Penguins with 500 assists, and he is the sixth-fastest to do it in NHL history.
Marc-Andre Fleury made 30 saves as Pittsburgh recorded its fourth straight win over the Islanders and the eighth in nine meetings.
Thomas Hickey staked the Islanders to a 1-0 lead in the first period, but New York failed to post its first 5-0 start. Jaroslav Halak stopped 35 shots.
The Penguins’ penalty-killing unit, which ranked last in the league, went 6-for-6 and came up with two key third-period stops to protect a one-goal lead.
That wasn’t the case Oct. 16 when Dallas scored the winning, power-play goal with 2.9 seconds left.
The Penguins fended off the hard-charging Islanders, who nearly tied the game midway through the final period.
“I thought our penalty killers battled hard,” Johnston said. “(The Islanders) have a very good power play, but our penalty killers were outstanding.”
And they needed to be.
The game was a matchup between the NHL’s top two power-play units and bottom two penalty-killers.
Pittsburgh entered with the best power play and worst penalty kill. The Islanders were second with the man advantage and 29th when short-handed.
The teams combined for eight penalties in 9:32 in the second period, starting with the Penguins, who committed four penalties in 3:21. Pittsburgh killed the Islanders’ two-man advantage that spanned 1:26.
“The power play was ugly,” Islanders captain John Tavares said. “The second half of the game, we didn’t generate much. We tried to mix things up, and it just seemed for whatever reason, we just weren’t sharp.”
The Penguins got the next two-man advantage after Cory Conacher was called for hooking, and the Islanders were then caught with too many men on the ice.
Malkin tied it 1-1 at 13:49 when he put in a wrist shot from the left point, and then fired a drive that Hornqvist tipped past Halak with 5:16 left in the second.
“When you get a 5-on-3 like we had right after theirs, those are turning points,” Johnston said. “We scored and they didn’t. That was the difference in the game.”
Pittsburgh outshot New York 16-10 in the opening period, but the Islanders held a one-goal lead.
New York scored 5:46 in when Ryan Strome, on a rush down the right side, found the trailing Hickey, who wristed a shot over Fleury’s shoulder.
Special teams allowed the Penguins to make up the difference. “We had to kill that 5-on-3. To get one of our own, put one in, and fire back to get another one was huge,” Crosby said. “We seemed to build a lot of momentum off of that.”