Despite losing their captain, the Pittsburgh Penguins found a way to finish the month unbeaten.
Pittsburgh, gearing for a run at the Stanley Cup, welcomed star forward Jarome Iginla to the lineup, but lost Sidney Crosby early in the first period after he was hit in the mouth with a puck.
Still, the Penguins managed to overcome the injury to Crosby on Saturday for their 15th straight victory as Matt Cooke and James Neal scored third-period goals during a 2-0 victory against the New York Islanders.
“It’s very tough to see that happen to anybody on the ice, but this is your teammate and Sid’s such a great player,” Iginla said. “It’s a very, very unfortunate play.”
Tomas Vokoun made 35 saves as Pittsburgh moved within two wins of the NHL record of 17 straight victories set by Mario Lemieux and the 1992-93 Penguins.
“The shutout is nice, but preserving the winning streak is even better,” Vokoun said. “It’s been great.”
It might be tough without Crosby.
Coach Dan Bylsma said Crosby lost several teeth and needed oral surgery. He did not know if Crosby would miss additional time and wasn’t sure if the injury affected his jaw.
“I just know he had some issues with his teeth,” Bylsma said. “Just from the replay I know that.”
Crosby, with 15 goals and 56 points, has enjoyed a resurgence this season, leading Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos by 10 points in the NHL scoring race.
Another head injury for Crosby, however, has to concern the Penguins.
Crosby has missed considerable time the past two years because of concussions. He was sidelined the final 41 games in 2011 and the Stanley Cup playoffs, and skipped most of the 2012 regular season as symptoms lingered.
“I think every time that type of thing happens to a player you think about it,” Bylsma said.
Crosby skated off the ice with a towel covering his mouth after a slap shot by teammate Brooks Orpik deflected off a stick and hit the NHL scoring leader in the face. Crosby, who immediately fell to the ice and tossed his stick in the air, did not return.
“When you see the replay, he had no chance to move,” Iginla said. “Guys were definitely checking to see how he was doing.”
Pittsburgh went 15-0-0 in March, the first perfect month in league history. The Penguins also won a franchise best 12th straight at home.
The Penguins, with a win at home against Buffalo on Tuesday, will have a chance to tie the record of 17 straight wins the following night at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers.
“It’s exciting for our team, exciting for the players,” Neal said. “We want to keep the streak going.”
Iginla, a six-time All-Star, was acquired by the Penguins from Calgary early Thursday and he arrived in Pittsburgh on Friday night. He was in the lineup a game earlier than originally anticipated.
The move for Iginla, who waived his no-trade clause to come to Pittsburgh, was the Penguins’ third big deal in a week. Pittsburgh also obtained former Dallas Stars captain Brenden Morrow and defenseman Doug Murray from San Jose.