They say that your goaltender is your most important penalty killer in hockey. And even in a high-scoring affair, that goaltender could still prove to be the key in that type of game. Well, Jeff Zatkoff delivered for the Pittsburgh Penguins Thursday night making 30 saves despite giving up four goals as he led his team to a 6-4 win over the New York Islanders.
With the game on the line late in the third period, New York had a golden opportunity when they had Pittsburgh backed up against the wall on a 5-on-3 powerplay. Zatkoff came up huge making key saves late in the game after Kyle Okposo scored midway through the period, making it a 5-4 game until the final seconds. Pittsburgh held on as Brandon Sutter scored an empty-netter with four seconds left.
In a back and forth battle between the two Metropolitan Division rivals, the Islanders started the game strong dominating the first half of the opening period. Michael Grabner scored just 1:39 into the game and Brock Nelson made it 2-0 at 8:21.
The top scoring team in the Eastern Conference refused to back down and Pittsburgh came alive later that period. Chris Kunitz and Sidney Crosby tallied back-to-back goals in under 2 minutes making it a tie game into the second period.
The Penguins continued their offensive surge in the next frame when Olli Maatta took a drop pass from Kunitz at the blueline and skated in on goaltender Kevin Poulin, went forehand to backhand to score his fifth goal of the season thus breaking the tie.
“Chris made a great play and saw me coming, I beat my forward and went to the net,” Maatta said. “It reminded me of playoff hockey, it was a lot of fun.”
Kris Letang added a powerplay goal late in the second period resulting in four unanswered goals by the Penguins.
After the Islanders made it 4-3 in the third period, the Penguins answered right back when James Neal created a turnover at the blueline on the forecheck and fed Evgeni Malkin who redirected the rink-wide pass under a diving Poulin. That proved to be the game-winner as Pittsburgh wins the season series, 3-1.
Special teams continue to be one of the keys to success for the Penguins as they are ranked No. 1 in the NHL in both categories. They went 1-for-2 on the powerplay and killed off all three penalties, including the crucial 5-on-3 late in the game.
Pittsburgh will continue their road trip and face the Dallas Stars Saturday night.
Ekiert’s Three Stars:
3- Olli Maatta, D; Penguins- 1 Goal, 1 Assist
2- Evgeni Malkin, C; Penguins- GW Goal
1- Sidney Crosby, C; Penguins- 1 Goal, 2 Assists