Penguins overcome early deficit to beat Islanders, 6-4



UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- OK, so maybe the goal wouldn't have been such a big deal if someone else had scored it.

Someone like, say, Sidney Crosby. Or John Tavares. Or any of a number of other world-class forwards.

But no, the goal that put the Penguins in front to stay in what became a frenetic, 6-4 victory against the New York Islanders Thursday night at Nassau Coliseum was scored by a defenseman.

A rookie defenseman.

A 19-year-old defenseman.

So, yeah, what Olli Maatta did was kind of special.

Mostly because it gave yet another glimpse into his potential to develop into a major force at both ends of the ice by the time shaving becomes a part of his daily routine.

The score was tied, 2-2, when Maatta took a drop pass from Chris Kunitz and skated through the left circle before cutting to the net and calmly sliding a backhander by Islanders goalie Kevin Poulin at 5:35 of the second period.

"I just kind of let the play develop," Maatta said. "[Kunitz] made a great pass. He saw me coming."

So did Poulin. Didn't matter.

The most impressive part of Maatta's goal? He made it look effortless. While his execution was flawless, the patience and poise Maatta showed while the play was unfolding was even more striking.

"Good instincts," defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "Good hands. Nice finish. That move's not in my playbook. ... He made a great read, nobody came to him and he put it in."

The victory was the Penguins' 15th in their past 19 games (15-3-1) and raised their Eastern Conference-leading points total to 74.

New York has been pretty hot of late -- the Islanders entered the game on a 10-3 roll -- but the Islanders haven't had much success against the Penguins at the Coliseum in recent winters. The Penguins have won seven of their past eight regular-season games there.

Maatta, it should be noted, wasn't the only defenseman to make a significant offensive contribution to the victory. Niskanen had two assists, giving him a career-best six-game points streak and 17 points in the past 16 games.

Eye-catching as Maatta's goal was, an even more stunning sequence came on a Penguins power play late in the second.

They kept the puck in the Islanders end for the entire 86 seconds required for Crosby to set up Kris Letang with a mostly open net from inside the left circle for a goal that put them up, 4-2.

New York had the standard complement of four penalty-killers on the ice during that stretch, but it really didn't matter because they did almost nothing to disrupt the Penguins' puck movement.

"It would be nice if they started to get a little prettier, like that," said Crosby, who finished with a goal and two assists.

"Sometimes, it's not the case. You have to take what they give you.

"But that's fun. ... As a power play, you have fun when you're able to get everyone touching the puck like that and you're getting it moving around."

The Penguins' top-rated penalty-killers, meanwhile, did some exceptional work of their own.

They were clinging to a 5-4 lead when the Islanders were awarded a five-on-three power play for 50 seconds with just under seven minutes left in the third period. The Penguins managed to survive that as well as the pair of five-on-four situations that flanked it.

"We're at a point now where we know we can kill penalties and have confidence going out there and doing it," said penalty-killer Brandon Sutter, who sealed the victory with an empty-net goal 3.1 seconds before regulation ended.

"You get in the last five minutes of a game, the last six minutes, and you're up by a goal and they get almost a full minute on a five-on-three, it's huge to kill it."

Goalie Jeff Zatkoff made the save of the game -- and maybe the month -- during the five-on-three, denying Frans Nielsen from the right side of the crease with 6:40 to go.

He then put the victory into perspective.

"We've had wins in all kinds of fashions," Zatkoff said. "Not probably the prettiest game for your numbers, but it was a hard-fought game.

"We had to protect a one-goal lead, which is good work for us at the end."


Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG First Published January 23, 2014 10:28 PM

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