Penguins stretch streak to 15; Crosby hurt
PITTSBURGH – Sidney Crosby was knocked out early, and Chris Kunitz was thrown out after that. That wiped out two thirds of the top line.
Two of the team’s best defensemen, Paul Martin and Kris Letang, were already out.
Yet the Pittsburgh Penguins found a way to beat the New York Islanders 2-0 and extend their winning streak to 15 games at Consol Energy Center Saturday afternoon.
Tomas Vokoun’s second consecutive shutout was aided dogged penalty killing from Matt Cooke, Craig Adams and Mark Eaton that kept the Islanders off the scoreboard, and Cooke and James Neal ended goal droughts in the third period.
Crosby was injured on his first shift of the game when Brooks Orpik’s shot hit Islanders forward Brad Boyes’ stick, took a sudden upward carom and struck Crosby squarely in the face.
He left the ice with a towel held to his chin and did not return.
“I think he lost a few (teeth), went to the hospital and had to have oral surgery,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “We’ll continue to monitor and evaluate that.”
The Penguins offered no information on Crosby’s injury beyond Bylsma’s statement.
Kunitz was assessed a major penalty and game misconduct at 16:23 of the second period when he used his shoulder to check Josh Bailey from behind. Although Kunitz was near the goal line when he delivered the hit, Bailey went headfirst into the back boards. He did not return to the game.
Kunitz’s penalty, coupled with a tripping call against Orpik, left the Penguins with 1:55 of a two-man disadvantage to kill. The Penguins played the last 3:37 of the second period shorthanded, and then had to kill the first 1:23 of the third.
“Huge, huge penalty kill,” said Jarome Iginla, who made his Penguins debut. “I think that really swung the momentum our way. (Cooke) was sure flying.”
Cooke singled-handedly bottled up the Islanders in their own end to wipe out at least 30 seconds at the beginning of the 5-on-3. He and the other penalty killers embraced their difficult job.
“We have a different mentality,” Cooke said. “We know we’re going to be offensive and score goals, but we need to keep the puck out of our net. Our goalies have been unbelievable throughout this run.”
Vokoun started consecutive games for the first time this season and has now stopped 168 of the last 172 shots he’s faced. He’s on a shutout streak of 162:42.
“The guys are diving in front of shots at the end of the game,” Vokoun said. “They want to get the shutout. They’re a very good team offensively, and we were short two forwards. We battled hard.”
Cooke, who had gone 13 games without a goal, scored at 8:10 of the third. Tyler Kennedy, pressed into duty at center because of Crosby’s absence, won a faceoff. Deryk Engelland’s show was blocked, but Cooke got the rebound, spun and scored.
Neal’s nine-game drought ended at 13:04 when he took Evgeni Malkin’s pass and skated down the right side. Malkin tapped his stick for a return pass, but Neal kept the puck and blew a shot past Evgeni Nabokov.
Beyond the shorthanded situations that totaled almost eight minutes, the biggest threat to Vokoun’s shutout was a third-period breakaway by Michael Grabner when the game was still scoreless.
The speedy Grabner picked off Matt Niskanen’s cross-ice pass at the blue line and broke in against Vokoun, who used his blocker to turn aside the shot.
“I just wanted to try to stay patient and make him make the first move,” Vokoun said. “I was fortunate enough to read it and get it with my blocker.”
The Penguins were 15-0 in March, the first NHL team to win every game in a month with at least 10 games.
“The most important game now is Tuesday against Buffalo,” Cooke said. “That’s all we care about. We’re not looking any more forward than that, and we’re not looking back at all. That’s the way we’ve approached every game this season, and I think that’s what helped us get to our game and play well.”
The Penguins set a team record with their 12th consecutive home win. … Forwards Joe Vitale and Dustin Jeffrey were healthy scratches. … Niskanen, Douglas Murray and Adams each had four hits.