PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Penguins’ next game is on the road, and that has to qualify as good news at this point.
They’ve lost both of their home games to inferior teams, the latest flop being Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to the New York Islanders that gave many of the 18,657 disappointed fans a head start on leaving the Consol Energy Center.
The Penguins had poor special teams play and an effort that didn’t match the Islanders’ work ethic.
“It’s unacceptable,” winger Pascal Dupuis said. “We know we’re much better than that. It’s not the way we know how to play, it’s not the way we’re going to win games. Obviously, we need to address it right away.”
Asked if his team had the proper energy level, coach Dan Bylsma paused and said, “It certainly wasn’t there.”
The second period was again a problem as the Islanders scored three unanswered goals. The Penguins have been outscored 11-2 in the middle period so far this season.
The game started ominously for the Penguins, who failed to score on two early power play chances.
“We weren’t able to get possession from the start, we weren’t able to maintain possession and we didn’t execute well with the puck,” Bylsma said. “I think that carried over to the rest of our game from there.”
With 3:59 left in the first period, the Islanders’ aggressive forechecking paid off with Casey Cizikas’ first career goal in 19 NHL games. Cizikas took the puck off Paul Martin below the goal line, then came around the back of the net and wrapped the puck in the net off Marc-Andre Fleury’s left skate.
Fleury was anticipating a shot from Marty Reasoner in the slot and appeared to be surprised when Cizikas didn’t pass the puck.
It marked the first time this season the Penguins didn’t score the first goal.
The Islanders opened a comfortable lead in the second period, taking advantage of a Penguins team that seemed to be a step slow all night.
Michael Grabiner scored a breakaway goal at 6:46 of the period to make it 2-0. Deryk Engelland couldn’t corral a bad hop at the point, and Grabiner was set free on the breakaway.
In Bylsma’s view, the 2-0 deficit took the steam out of the Penguins.
“We didn’t bounce back from that,” he said. “We didn’t execute very well after that. Our attitude and emotion dropped after that.”
John Tavares made it 3-0 on a power play at 15:22 when he stationed himself at the base of the right circle, took a pass from Matt Mouslon and elevated a shot over Fleury.
The final goal of the period also came on a power play. Brad Boyes grabbed a puck that deflected off the end boards, and Moulson put it in as Fleury was spinning helplessly in search of the puck.
The Penguins still had a chance to get back in the game with a five-minute power play that came when Colin McDonald was given a major and game misconduct for boarding Ben Lovejoy.
The first 1:06 of the power play came at the end of the second period. Then the Penguins had a chance to regroup and play the last 3:54 on fresh ice at the start of the third period.
It didn’t matter. The Penguins could only manage one shot during the man advantage and never seriously threatened. In their nine minutes of power play time, they got only three shots on goal.
“There’s no real excuse,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “We’re not executing well.”
Veteran goalie Evgeni Nabakov had a strong game, making 37 saves. He lost his shutout with 1:09 left when Dupuis jammed the puck in from close range.
That didn’t stop the remaining fans from booing the Penguins off the ice.
“Can’t say they weren’t right,” Dupuis said.
Tomas Vokoun replaced Fleury at the start of the third. … Defenseman Matt Niskanen will miss two to four weeks with a lower body injury sustained in Sunday’s game at Ottawa, Bylsma said. Simon Despres played 19:12 with four hits and three shots on goal as he took Niskanen’s spot. …The Islanders have killed 18 of their last 19 shorthanded situations. …Eric Tangradi was a non-injured scratch. …The Penguins play the Rangers in New York Thursday at 7 p.m.