Johnny Boychuk and the Islanders got snowed over by the Penguins on Saturday.
The Islanders’ opportunity to make a significant move in the Metropolitan Division standings was short-lived. And this one had little to do with their much-alibied injury situation.
What was billed as a critical game for their playoff positioning turned out to be nothing more than an ill-timed dud, as the Isles never got any traction in a sloppy and lethargic 5-0 pasting by the rolling Penguins in front of announced sellout crowd at Barclays Center.
The fourth-place Isles (42-26-9) came in winners of four of their previous five, and they could have temporarily tied the Rangers and moved within one point of Pittsburgh in the divisional standings with another regulation win.
They remain in the first wild-card position in the Eastern Conference, five points behind the Penguins (98-93) and just two ahead of No. 8 Philadelphia.
Penguins rookie backup Matt Murray, playing for concussed starter Marc-Andre Fleury, blanked the Isles on 23 shots for his first NHL shutout and Pittsburgh’s 11th win in 12 games. The Isles’ magic number to clinch a playoff berth held at five points with five games remaining, pending No.9 Detroit’s game against Toronto on Saturday night.
Penguins rookie Matt Murray replaces Marc-Andre Fleury and records the shutout.
Several times this week, Isles coach Jack Capuano has pointed out how his team hasn’t received enough “credit” for overcoming multiple injuries this season, and Saturday morning was no different after it was announced that minute-munching defenseman Travis Hamonic would miss at least the rest of the regular season following a knee-to-knee hit Thursday night against Columbus. Hamonic also missed the playoffs last season with a torn MCL in his left knee.
“I know it’s not good. I know he’s going to be out for the rest of the regular season,” Capuano said. “I just feel bad for the guys…Sometimes timing is everything in life. I’ve always said it.
“You’ve heard me talk about goaltending, luck, health and special teams as far as playoff teams go, and we haven’t had the luck or the health of this hockey club…Other guys are going to have to step up and give us some minutes.”
Still, outside of the recent absence of goalie Jaroslav Halak (groin), the Isles’ core mostly has been healthy all season, with 15 players projected to appear in at least 70 games.
The Islanders are no match for the Penguins at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
By contrast, the Pens likely will have nine or 10 players reach that figure, with star center Evgeni Malkin already sidelined for an extended period and Fleury missing at least Saturday’s game with his second concussion this season.
Veteran depth defenseman Marek Zidlicky returned to the Isles’ lineup after missing nearly four weeks with an upper-body injury to replace Hamonic, rather than frequently scratched rookie and former first-round pick Ryan Pulock.
Capuano’s reasoning for that decision was because he prefers to go with his more experienced players, but a miscommunication involving third-string goalie J-F Berube – making his 7th NHL appearance – led to Pittsburgh’s first goal 12:41 into the first period.
With the Isles on the power play, Berube’s clearance pass intended for Nick Leddy was picked off before reaching the blue line by Oskar Sundqvist, who whistled in a shorthanded goal for a 1-0 Pittsburgh lead.
Patric Hornqvist doubled the cushion with a man-advantage deflection goal 8:09 into the middle session, and Matt Cullen capitalized on Calvin de Haan’s defensive-zone turnover to beat Berube for a 3-0 game at 15:30. Pittsburgh’s fourth goal also resulted from a turnover, with Phil Kessel banking one in off of Berube midway through the third.