Kessel, Letang score twice, lead Pens past Islanders
PITTSBURGH (AP) — A renewed commitment to defense has the Pittsburgh Penguins back on track after a bumpy November.
The Penguins’ dynamic offense appears to have found its stride, too.
Kris Letang and Phil Kessel each scored twice, and the Penguins beat the New York Islanders 6-2 on Thursday night.
“Obviously, this year hasn’t started off the best for us, but we’re right in it,” Kessel said. “There’s a lot of hockey to play and we just gotta keep improving and getting better.”
Kessel, who also had two assists, tied Ed Olczyk, Scott Young and Brian Rolston for 10th all-time in career goals by an American-born player with 342. Letang’s two goals moved him in front of Larry Murphy for most multigoal home games for a Penguins’ defenseman in franchise history.
Sidney Crosby scored his 15th goal and had two assists. Crosby tied Jaromir Jagr for second-most home goals in franchise history with 232. Riley Sheahan scored his fourth goal for Pittsburgh, which pulled into a third-place tie in the Metropolitan Division with the Islanders and New York Rangers. The Penguins have won two straight and five of eight following a slump in which they won once in 10 games.
Jake Guentzel had three assists and established a career-best six-game point streak for Pittsburgh, which scored six or more goals in back-to-back games for the second time this season.
Casey DeSmith made 19 saves to win for the fifth time in six starts.
“I think we’ve really improved in our own end,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “We’re not giving up nearly as many chances as we did in probably the first 20 games of the season. We’re cutting down not only the quantity of chances, but the quality on most nights. We have our hiccups, but we’re certainly trending in the right direction.”
New York’s Anders Lee scored for the fourth straight game, his 11th of the season. Brock Nelson’s 10th was a short-handed goal for the Islanders, who have one win in their last five games.
Thomas Greiss stopped 16 shots through two periods before he was replaced by Christopher Gibson, who made six saves.
“It definitely wasn’t the standard that we needed to come to play with, so it’s on us,” Nelson said. “They got a couple, and it’s times like that on the road where you kind of have to find a way to stop it, get some momentum back and get back on the attack. It’s frustrating, for sure.”
After Letang scored on a give-and-go with Derick Brassard, Nelson tied it late in the first period. It was the fourth short-handed goal allowed by Pittsburgh in five games and its league-worst eighth this season.
Letang helped the Penguins recover when he scored again with 29 seconds left in the period on a slap shot from center point.
Sheahan batted the rebound from Evgeni Malkin’s shot to make it 3-1, and Kessel scored twice in a six-minute span later in the second period. Crosby and Guentzel assisted on both goals.
Kessel’s first was a slick passing sequence in which Guentzel sent a quick pass to Crosby at the near post, who one-touched the puck to the opposite post. Kessel finished the play into a partially open net.
“Those are easy ones,” Kessel said. “You just try not to miss them.”
Kessel’s second was another one-timer, this time on a 2-on-1 with Crosby. The Penguins’ captain added his own goal in the third when he squeezed a bad-angle shot between Gibson’s helmet and the post from near the goal line.
NOTES: Crosby has points in 15 of his last 17 games against the Islanders, and Malkin has points in 16 of 20 versus New York. ... Penguins F Patric Hornqvist left the game after the first period for undisclosed reasons. ... Penguins F Dominik Simon missed the game because of a lower-body injury. ... Islanders G Robin Lehner skated Thursday but was not available to back up Greiss. ... Pittsburgh has won four of its last five home games. ... G Matt Murray and F Matt Cullen both skated prior to the game for Pittsburgh.
Islanders: Visit Detroit on Saturday.
Penguins: Begin a three-game trip Saturday at Ottawa.