The Pittsburgh Penguins are rolling so well without Evgeni Malkin, the star center might have trouble cracking the lineup once he is healthy enough to play.
“I think he should be all right,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said Friday night after Pittsburgh beat the New York Islanders 4-2 to extend their winning streak to 11 games.
Malkin has missed seven of those victories because of an undisclosed injury, but the Penguins haven’t missed a beat.
Tomas Vokoun was sharp in making 33 saves, and Brandon Sutter snapped a tie early in the third period for the Penguins, who overcame a pair of one-goal deficits and a poor first period to win again.
Vokoun was the difference-maker early as he allowed only one goal in the first when the Penguins were outshot 14-3 and spent most of the frame in their end.
Despite being down 1-0, the Penguins knew they were fortunate to be that close.
“It could’ve been three, four,” said Crosby, who had two assists. “Vokie kind of weathered that storm, and we were able to get back into it.
“That’s what allowed us to come in here and regroup, knowing that it could’ve been a lot worse.”
Brandon Sutter netted the winning goal when took a pass from Matt Cooke in front off a 2-on-1 rush and scored past goalie Evgeni Nabokov 1:46 into the third period. Joe Vitale and Chris Kunitz had second-period goals for Eastern Conference-leading Pittsburgh, which hasn’t lost since Feb. 28 at Carolina.
Pascal Dupuis added an empty-net goal with less than a second remaining, with an assist from Vokoun, to make it 4-2.
“They are a desperate team. They came out hard at us. We kind of bent but didn’t break,” Vokoun said of the Islanders. “We talked after the first period that we’ve got to match their energy and their effort — and we did.”
Mark Streit put the Islanders ahead in the first, and Josh Bailey answered Vitale’s goal to make it 2-1 in the second, but New York lost its third straight in a four-game homestand.
The Islanders have led or been tied in the third period of 25 of their 31 games, but have won only 13 (13-9-3).
“The third period has been our Achilles’ heel,” forward John Tavares said. “We can’t seem to hold onto a lead or break through in the third.”
The Islanders, who fell to an NHL-worst 5-11-2 at home, are 11th in the Eastern Conference — three points and three places behind the postseason cutoff.
New York has been outscored 9-0 in the third period during this homestand, including allowing three final-period goals in a 5-2 loss to Montreal on Thursday.
“I knew we had to make a big push at the start of the third period,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. “I certainly was aware of their third-period situation.
“I don’t know if they were ready for us or they were desperate because of their situation, but they played really well and really hard and took it to us. I am really proud of the way we battled and won this game.”