At least not enough to lose to the New York Islanders, who were even more dismal offensively than they were—and, in this one-goal-was-enough game, that was difficult.
Petr Sykora scored with 2:28 remaining and the Crosby-less Penguins did little offensively most of the game but still beat the Islanders 1-0 on Wednesday night.
With the two Atlantic Divisions teams threatening to go into overtime scoreless, defenseman Sergei Gonchar threw the puck from the right circle toward a crowd in front of the net, and Sykora gathered it and stuffed it in the side of the net before goalie Yann Danis could react.
Sykora’s 23rd goal ended Danis’ five-period shutout streak and was the only score allowed by Danis on 68 shots over two games. Danis made 40 saves in shutting out the Devils 4-0 on Saturday night, his second career shutout.
Islanders coach Scott Gordon didn’t fault Danis on the decisive play.
“(Ruslan) Fedotenko ran into (Brendan) Witt, who fell on top of Yann,” Gordon said. “It resulted in a bit of a fluke bounce to go right into the net.”
Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, pulled after giving up five goals during a 5-2 loss in Washington on Sunday, made 21 saves for his third shutout this season and the 13th of his career. A slumping Fleury yielded 13 goals in his last three games.
“I think we’ve been struggling against teams that are lower in the standings and it’s good to get two points and everybody is happy,” Fleury said.
Well, maybe not everyone.
“I don’t think it was a terribly exciting game,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “There weren’t a lot of pucks to the net until the third period. But that’s the kind of recipe you play and win hockey games with—you get into the offensive zone, stay there and grind it down and set yourself up for the third period.”
The Islanders have been held to six goals while losing their last six road games and are 1-19-1 away from home since Nov. 22.
“Defensively, we’re playing really strong. We’re not giving up a lot of chances,” Danis said. “We created some chances in the second and hit the crossbar. On the road, pucks just aren’t going our way.”
Pittsburgh, winning its third in four games, closed within two points of the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot despite playing so poorly offensively that Bylsma resorted to double-shifting NHL scoring leader Evgeni Malkin.
Malkin was held to one shot despite playing 24 minutes, 4 seconds, or more time than any Pittsburgh player but Gonchar (26:26). He assisted on Sykora’s goal by keeping the puck in the Islanders’ end, his 88th point of the season and 61st assist.
Crosby, tied for second in scoring with 79 points, injured his groin Sunday but practiced a day later. He left the ice early during practice Tuesday when the groin problem became more bothersome, and he pulled himself off the ice again Wednesday during the pregame skate.
Pittsburgh, which has 20 games remaining, opens a five-game road trip in Chicago on Friday night and it is uncertain when Crosby will be ready.
“As frustrating as it was not getting a goal the first two periods and the first 55 minutes or whatever it was, I thought we stayed pretty composed and kept plugging away,” defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “Then we found one there in the end. Their goalie played great all night.”
The Islanders’ lack of offense was predictable, although they had a handful of chances they couldn’t convert—including an Andy Hilbert shot early in the third that ran along the goal line before striking the left post.
“We’re trying to wear the other team down by making them play in their zone most of the night,” Pittsburgh defenseman Mark Eaton. “I think we did that for a majority of the game and finally at the end, we were able to force a bounce.”
The Penguins also were without D Ryan Whitney, who left the team for personal reasons but is expected back Friday. … The Islanders beat Pittsburgh 3-2 in a shootout on Feb. 16, Bylsma’s first game. … Pittsburgh is 3-1-1 under Bylsma. … Pittsburgh is 0-for-19 on the power play in the first period in its last 14 games. Both teams were 0-for-3 with the man advantage.