Altered and watered-down Penguins lineup finds means to rally from 2-0 deficit vs. Islanders
December 11, 2011 10:00 AM
Kathy Kmonicek/Associated Press
Paul Martin and New York's Tim Wallace get tangled along the boards Saturday night in the Penguins' 6-3 victory against the Islanders in Uniondale, N.Y.
By Dave Molinari Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- These are not ordinary times for the Penguins, and they do not call for ordinary adjustments.
No, when a team's depth chart has been shredded by injuries the way the Penguins' has been recently, its coach often has to try things a bit more radical than simply tweaking a forecheck.
Like moving career winger Pascal Dupuis to center, for example. Or plugging Joe Vitale and Chris Kunitz -- who had combined for eight minutes, 11 seconds of short-handed work this season -- into the penalty-killing unit.
A heck of a way to try to win a hockey game, perhaps, but it worked Saturday night.
For even though the Penguins trailed the New York Islanders for most of the first half of their game at Nassau Coliseum, they ran off four unanswered goals in the final 32 minutes to earn a 6-3 victory.
It raised their record to 17-9-4 and gave them a 4-0 mark against the Islanders this season.
Beating the Islanders has become pretty routine for the Penguins this season, but they had to do it this time without two of their top three centers, Sidney Crosby (headache) and Jordan Staal (undisclosed) as well as defensemen Kris Letang and Zbynek Michalek, both of whom have concussions.
And while they did get defenseman Deryk Engelland back after he had missed two games because of an unspecified injury, coach Dan Bylsma still had to give a number of guys altered, expanded roles.
And pretty much everyone thrived in them.
Dupuis, for example, never had played in the middle until a brief trial earlier this season, but scored the winning goal and didn't look the least bit uncomfortable at center.
"It was a little adjustment, but it's still a hockey game," he said. "I think it went OK."
Vitale and Kunitz, meanwhile, were not exactly novices at killing penalties, but both were called upon to do it more than usual last night.
That was particularly true of Vitale, who played a team-high seven minutes, 13 seconds while the Penguins were down a man. In his previous 25 games, he had logged a total of five minutes, 37 seconds while short-handed.
The diversified duty certainly did not unnerve him, though, as Vitale set up a Steve Sullivan goal with a nice feed and was the Penguins' best faceoff man, going 10-7.
"The [penalty-killing] has been going good all year," Vitale said. "I just wanted to step in and keep going with the momentum they've given us."
David Ullstrom (4:04) and Milan Jurcina (12:16) staked New York to a 2-0 lead in the first period, but Sullivan countered at 14:28 and James Neal pulled them even with 28.2 seconds to go before the intermission.
"We were in a hole, but ... I thought our team responded real well," Bylsma said. "That was a huge goal [by Neal] to draw even."
True enough, but the Penguins fell behind again at 2:54 of the second, when Kyle Okposo of the Islanders put a shot over goalie Marc-Andre Fleury's glove to make it 3-2.
But, with the sides playing four-on-four at 7:35 of the second period, New York defenseman Travis Hamonic was given a five-minute major for elbowing Brooks Orpik of the Penguins.
Replays suggested the incident likely did not merit a major, and the Islanders were outraged by the ruling. And it likely was not much consolation to them that Orpik agreed. He had a bloody gash above his nose, but said he did not believe Hamonic deserved such a penalty.
"I was surprised it was a five-minute major, to be honest" Orpik said. "I didn't think it was. I thought it was a bad call.
"There were a lot of iffy calls both ways tonight. I don't know if that was a turning point or not, but I didn't think it was a five-minute major on them."
Hamonic's penalty helped to set up a five-on-three power play and, for a change, the Penguins capitalized on their chance with a two-man advantage, as Neal got his 17th of the season.
Dupuis put the Penguins in front at 15:58, and Matt Cooke (1:04) and Paul Martin (10:10) provided insurance in the third.
So a game the Penguins began with an even more diluted lineup than usual, to say nothing of an early deficit, ended with them earning two of their more satisfying points this season.
"It felt great to come back in this one," Dupuis said. "The way we battled was great."