Isles complete road sweep of Metro foes
Make most of opportunities in third straight win at Pittsburgh
After playing eight of their first 11 games on the road, the Islanders are looking forward to some home cooking at Barclays Center, beginning with Thursday night’s completion of a home-and-home set against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Then again, New York proved during its road-heavy slate in October that it isn’t the least bit daunted by the task of winning in another team’s arena.
“They’ve become a bit of road warriors,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said following the Islanders’ 6-3 victory in Pittsburgh Tuesday night in front of a sellout crowd of 18,887 at PPG Paints Arena.
“You look at the schedule at the start of the season and you think this could be a tough start, but guys bought in and have been battling,” added Trotz, who saw his team complete a perfect 3-0-0 road trip against Metropolitan Division opponents.
“Being on the road, especially with all the new personnel that we have has probably been a blessing in disguise.”
It hardly felt like a blessing when the Penguins outshot the Isles, 15-6, over the first 20 minutes, but starting goalie Robin Lehner managed to weather the storm until New York began to light the lamp with regularity in the second period.
Jordan Eberle followed Matt Martin’s tiebreaking goal in the stanza with two of his own, including one on the power play, as the Isles took a 5-2 advantage into the final period.
“I’m really impressed by the way we were able to pull it back together,” Trotz noted after Thomas Greiss was called in to man the net for the third period after Lehner felt some tightness in his lower extremities.
“Sometimes when you’re not going really well you can’t get it back on the rails. This group did today, so good on them.”
The Brooklyn-based NHL franchise saw Evgeni Malkin cut the deficit to 5-3 early in the third. But former Penguin Tom Kuhnhackl sealed the win midway through the period with his first goal of the year to pull the Isles within one point of the Pens for the top spot in the Metropolitan.
“I liked our response in the second [period],” Eberle noted. “We’re just continuing to win and play well. I think that’s the key.”
Kuhnhackl, one of the many players Lamoriello brought in this summer during the Isles’ roster reshape following the departure of former captain John Tavares, was given a video tribute during the second period in the building he called home for the previous three seasons.
“It felt great. I didn’t even know if I should have celebrated or not,” Kuhnhackl said. “Good things happen when you throw pucks on net. I’m just happy it went in.”
The Isles saw five of their first 10 shots hit the back of the net against the Pens, who held a Stronger Than Hate pregame ceremony in honor of the victims of the tragic shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue last Saturday.
“We wanted to go out there and play for them,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby told the Associated Press. “You try to recognize that and play as hard as you can to show your appreciation. Words are one thing, but you try to go out there and follow it up the same.”
New York players showed their support by donning special Stronger Than Hate stickers on their helmets during the game.
They also displayed the type of grit in the face of adversity that had eluded them during the last two non-playoff campaigns.
“We capitalized on our chances,” Kuhnhackl said. “We didn’t put a lot of shots on net in the first half of the game. We didn’t play to our game, but in the second half we played a real solid road game and we got rewarded for it.”
Isle Have Another: Andrew Ladd and Brock Nelson scored first-period goals for the Isles on Tuesday as New York completed its three-game run through Philadelphia, Carolina and Pittsburgh by outscoring its division foes by a combined 14-5. … The Isles held their opponents scoreless on nine power-play opportunities during the three-game trip. … Following the completion of their home-and-home with the Pens on Thursday night, the Isles will host New Jersey here on Saturday night and Montreal on Monday evening. … Lehner, who is listed as day-to-day with what the team is calling a strain, made 23 saves on 25 shots Tuesday before Greiss finished up with 12 saves in the third period. … Josh Bailey extended his points streak to six games with the primary assist on Nelson’s first-period goal. … Reigning Calder Trophy winner Mathew Barzal had two assists against the Penguins, upping his career points total to 95 in 97 career NHL games.
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