Islanders rookie Ilya Sorokin made 20 saves for his second shutout, and Oliver Wahlstrom and Jean-Gabriel Pageau each scored power-play goals as New York finished a strong February with a 2-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday night.
The Islanders went 8-2-2 during February, with all four losses coming against the Penguins — who they were playing for sixth time in the month. The Islanders remained the only team in the league without a regulation loss at home, with a 7-0-2 mark at Nassau Coliseum.
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The 25-year-old Sorokin made his fifth start for the Islanders and both of his NHL victories have been shutouts, including his win Feb. 16 at Buffalo. It was the first time the Islanders recorded a shutout against the Penguins since January 1986 when Kelly Hrudey managed the feat.
“A lot of blocked shots gave me a lot of energy,” Sorokin said. “It’s the result of teamwork.”
Wahlstrom put the Islanders ahead at 19:20 of the first with his third goal of the season, blasting a one-timer over the left shoulder of Casey DeSmith on the power play.
Wahlstrom, the Islanders’ 2018 first-round pick, has become a lineup mainstay in recent weeks. The 6-foot-2 right wing extended his points streak to four games with the goal, while Nick Leddy’s assist was his eighth in the last eight games. Leddy leads the Islanders with 13 assists. Josh Bailey also assisted.
“I have learned to play the right way and have fun doing it,” the 20-year-old Wahlstrom said. “It has been awesome every time I see my name in the lineup. I just keep learning. I am really enjoying it right now, enjoying the process.”
The Islanders outshot the Penguins 9-2 in the opening period.
Pageau made it 2-0 at 14:56 of the second with his ninth goal, also on the power-play. Wahlstrom and Bailey assisted. Pageau is tied with Islanders captain Anders Lee for the team lead in goals.
The Islanders held a 16-8 shots advantage in the second period, while the Penguins outshot them 10-4 in the third.
DeSmith started for the Penguins for the first time since defeating the Islanders 4-3 in a shootout on Feb. 11 at Nassau Coliseum. DeSmith made 27 saves.
“Mentally, it felt good to get back in there,” DeSmith said. “The first two periods, they had a lot of pucks on net and had many scoring chances.”
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan was pleased with his goaltender after his club failed to score for the first time in 20 games this season.
“Casey was good,” Sullivan said.
The contest was played with the same crisp playoff-quality pace as Saturday’s game which the Penguins won 4-3 on an overtime goal by high-scoring defenseman Kris Letang.
Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin said the back-to-back nature of the schedule plus repeatedly facing the same opponent wasn’t a prime factor in Sunday’s lack of scoring punch. The Russian forward said the result was more attributable to the Islanders’ suffocating defense.
“You can see how the Islanders played tonight, they played 60 minutes,” Malkin said. “They really worked.”
Sorokin’s shutout was the fifth for the Islanders in 21 games this season, a franchise first. He also became the second Islanders rookie with two straight shutouts and the first since Glenn Resch did it in December 1975.
Islanders coach Barry Trotz said that with a condensed schedule ahead Sorokin would get his fair share of playing time along with veteran mentor Semyon Varlamov.
The Penguins beat the Islanders twice at home this month. The teams meet twice more in Pittsburgh in late March during this abbreviated 56-game season in which teams in the eight-team East are playing divisional opponents eight times.
Despite the loss Sunday, the Penguins are 7-2-3 in their last 11 games against the Islanders. Pittsburgh returns home for three games this week against the rival Philadelphia Flyers, another close competitor in what has become an exceptionally close playoff race among five teams for four spots.
“We have to be better,” Sullivan added.
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CROSBY AND MALKIN
Though he was quiet Sunday in what could have been his last game at Nassau Coliseum, Penguins captain Sidney Crosby has 120 points (38 goals and 82 assists) in 73 career games against Islanders. That is the most for an active player against any single team. The Penguins are 45-19-9 in those games. Malkin has 84 points in 70 career games against Islanders, second-most among active players against one opponent.
The Islanders have four players with active game streaks of at least 200 games: Lee (289), Brock Nelson (266), Mathew Barzal (253) and Ryan Pulock with 216. All have appeared in every game since Trotz became the Islanders coach to start the 2018-19 season. Lee’s streak is the third-longest in team history behind Bob Nystrom at 301 and Billy Harris who leads with 576.
The Islanders are early in a stretch during which they are slated to play 19 games in 33 days for the first time in franchise history. They are 2-0-1 so far.
Islanders: Visiting the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday.
Penguins: Hosting Philadelphia on Tuesday in the first of three home games in five days against Flyers.